The federal telecom regulator has ordered a Toronto real estate developer to give Bell Canada access to a new condominium building in a case that has highlighted the tension between offering customers a choice of telecom providers and the property rights of building owners.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled Thursday that Bell should be granted access to Edenshaw Developments Ltd.'s Chaz Yorkville development near Yonge and Bloor Sts.
Edenshaw argued that it has already negotiated agreements for access to provide telecom service with two other companies – Rogers Communications Inc. and Beanfield Microconnect Inc. – but the CRTC said its policy on multiple-dwelling unit buildings is that residents should be able to use the service provider of their choice.
Condo owners are set to begin taking occupancy on April 24 and the commission ruled that Rogers and Beanfield will not be permitted to provide service as of that date unless Edenshaw notifies Bell that it will give the company immediate access to the building's "main terminal room" and access to individual units upon request by customers. (Bell Canada is owned by BCE Inc., which also owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail.)
Edenshaw had argued that property rights fall under provincial authority and said the federal regulator did not have jurisdiction over privately owned buildings. President and CEO David McComb said he still does not agree that the CRTC has jurisdiction, but the company will nonetheless comply with the decision and has already notified Bell of that fact.
"The most important thing for us now is to deliver owners their new homes with as little disruption as possible," he said in an e-mail Friday. "Bell's personnel are already making initial arrangements to access the building."
He said "negotiating an agreement could take longer," but insisted, "There will be no impact on occupancy."
The CRTC decision noted that a concurring opinion from Commissioner Raj Shoan "will follow." The Globe has learned that the concurring decision also would have ordered Edenshaw to provide access to Bell, but would have used a different section of the Telecommunications Act and would not have barred Rogers and Beanfield from providing service until Bell gained access. At this point, the matter appears moot in this case as Bell is in the process of gaining access to the building.
On the positive side, Edenshaw's Mr. McComb said he felt the CRTC majority's decision recognized that developers do not have to treat every telecom provider exactly the same and individual circumstances "may result in different negotiated access terms."
Bell has been at odds with several Toronto developers, filing five complaints with the CRTC related to access issues over the past two years. Getting into buildings with hundreds of potential customers has been particularly important for the company as it pushes its IPTV (Internet protocol television) service, challenging Rogers' long-held cable television dominance in the crucial Toronto market.
The company launched the television service in 2010 and announced Friday that BCE now has more than 1 million IPTV subscribers (that figure includes IPTV subscribers from Bell Aliant, which BCE privatized last year.)
Bell spokesman Mark Langton said Friday the company was "happy for the opportunity to compete" offered by the CRTC ruling.
Beanfield, meanwhile, has cropped up as a third player vying to sell Internet, phone and television services to new condo owners in Toronto. The company has provided commercial telecommunications services in Toronto for more than two decades, but got into the residential business when it won the contract to serve the Waterfront Toronto development in 2011. Beanfield has since moved more aggressively into that arena. It currently serves about 30 buildings in the Toronto area and will offer service in a further 60 under construction.
"Now that we're in the residential market and we're the only third option pulling fibre into buildings for residential, all of a sudden we've found ourselves in the middle of Rogers and Bell battling it out and all we want to do is provide service," Chris Amendola, president of Beanfield, said in an interview Friday.
He said he welcomes the competition and has no problem with Bell being allowed in the building but does sympathize with the developer. "The difficulty is where the line is drawn. As a property owner, is the CRTC going to tell you that you have to allow 100 people into the building?"
The CRTC has made it clear through a number of decisions that it expects developers to negotiate with all telecom providers who want to provide access. Yet, there are only a limited number of facilities-based telecom providers that operate in each community and city – typically the incumbent cable and telephone companies as well as a handful of newer players such as Beanfield – so an onslaught of requests to negotiate access should not be an immediate problem.