BCE Inc.'s appeal to the federal cabinet over a regulatory ruling on small competitors gaining access to high-speed Internet services was the focus of debate at Toronto City Council on Thursday.
The company filed a petition to the Governor in Council in October, challenging part of a July decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that will require BCE to give small Internet providers – such as TekSavvy, Distributel and Primus – the ability to resell its highest-speed fibre-based broadband service.
The government received more than 80 comments on the petition before a late December deadline, including a letter from Toronto Mayor John Tory, who wrote in support of BCE's appeal, noting that the company is spending $1-billion on its fibre build-out in Toronto.
But the Toronto City Council voted 28 to five on Thursday in favour of a motion to "support competitive and affordable Internet prices for its residents," and to support the CRTC ruling and forward a copy of its decision to do so to the federal government. Mr. Tory was not present for the vote.
"Even though we have missed the official comment period, this is a political appeal to a political body," said councillor Mike Layton, who put forth the motion. He argued that Toronto, as Canada's largest city, should at least make its position on the matter known.
Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has until July 22 – one year from the original decision – to vary the CRTC ruling, send it back to the regulator for reconsideration or take no action.
BCE argues that if the decision stands, it will affect the company's investment decisions and could delay plans to extend "fibre-to-the-home" services to some medium-size and small towns and rural areas.
"Enabling companies that don't invest in infrastructure to ride on the advanced broadband networks being built by Bell and other committed providers doesn't support innovation or job creation," BCE spokesman Mark Langton said Thursday, adding that more than 80 per cent of the submissions received by the CRTC were in support of the company's appeal.
The company secured support from many of its network suppliers, several construction companies, more than a dozen municipal mayors, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Bell Pensioners' Group, among others.
But opponents – including several consumer groups, academics and independent Internet service providers – say access to the most up-to-date and fastest services is crucial to fostering competition and argue that the company's warnings about pulling back on investment are overblown and alarmist.
The City of Calgary also filed a 30-page submission opposing the appeal and Mr. Layton pointed to those arguments in support of his motion. BCE does not operate residential Internet services in Calgary but Telus Corp., which is also making investments in fibre to the home, does.
Mr. Layton also argued Thursday that encouraging competition at the retail level by allowing smaller companies to access the incumbent companies' networks – rather than building their own – avoids the prospect of city streets being torn up unnecessarily.
Since the 1990s, the CRTC has allowed independent players to access certain parts of incumbent telephone and cable companies' networks on a wholesale basis in an effort to increase competition for Internet services at the retail level.
Alternative service providers accounted for about 9 per cent of all residential Internet revenues in Canada in 2014, according to the CRTC. The incumbent telephone and cable companies accounted for the balance of the market, which was worth about $6.5-billion.