Canadian regulator backs wholesale access to last-mile infrastructure
18 November 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray
The head of Canada’s regulator has waved the threat of structural separation at the country’s three big operators if they resist wholesale access by competitors.
Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), pointed towards Australian and UK solutions that allow competitors equal access on a wholesale basis to last-mile connections to homes and businesses.
“If the winds of change blow too hard and they refuse to bend in the wind, the tree may break at the trunk rather than lose a few leaves,” Blais told Bell, Rogers and Telus in a speech.
Addressing the annual conference of the Canadian chapter of the International Institute of Communications, Blais invited the industry “to look abroad. In Australia and the UK, for example, consumer pressure and government policy has resulted in, or is seriously contemplating, the structural separation of broadband providers between wholesale and retail.”
In Australia the government-backed National Broadband Network has taken over Telstra’s last-mile network and provides equal access to all operators. In the UK, BT subsidiary Openreach has a similar role, which is being strengthened after a review by the regulator, Ofcom.
In Canada, “large companies will have to share their fibre networks with competitors, in order to give Canadians more choice of faster internet service that will power the broadband home and business of the future”, said Blais.
“We also believe that consumers ought to have the freedom to change their service providers – television, wireless, internet or otherwise – as they see fit. We stripped away the requirement that consumers give 30 days’ notice prior to cancelling their services.”
Blais also defended the CRTC’s stance on net neutrality, pointing to moves the regulator has taken against Bell Mobility – Bell Canada’s mobile arm – and cable operator Videotron, each of which offered their own content to mobile customers without it counting towards data charges.
“Their competitors, however, were not afforded the same privilege,” said Blais. “Content that their subscribers watched from other websites or apps counted against their data cap. We ordered Bell and Videotron to eliminate such exemptions. We want an open and fair marketplace for mobile TV services to spur innovation and choice for Canadians.”
Blais criticised operators that say such decisions stifle innovation. “I couldn’t disagree more. We’re all for innovation. We want broadcasters and telecommunications providers to move their industries forward by creating new content and opening new channels for consumers to access media. But when the drive to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of free and open access to content, we will intervene. Abuses of power in the system will not go unchecked.”