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CRTC's Internet decision 'simply wrong,' Clement says

Canada's Industry Minister Tony Clement speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 15, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE

In the debate over usage-based Internet fees, Industry Minister Tony Clement has worked hard to position his government as being on the side of the people. On Tuesday, he also declared himself one of the Tweeple.

Mr. Clement appeared before a House of Commons committee to discuss the ruling by the federal telecommunications regulator that would allow large Internet service providers such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications Inc. to limit the amount of bandwidth used by smaller independent Internet providers, who piggyback on the larger companies' networks.

The minister defended his move to ask the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to review its decision - a position Mr. Clement announced via social networking site Twitter rather than communicating it directly to CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein.

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"There is nothing different from articulating government policy via social media as compared to a news release, or a press conference or other means that have been traditionally available to politicians," Mr. Clement said.

Mr. Clement, who uses Twitter to discuss everything from Canada's latest GDP numbers to his own fondness for gummy bears, said that his followers include thousands of interested Canadians and 2,000 to 3,000 members of the media. That makes it a valid social forum to announce policy decisions, he argued.

The CRTC is currently examining its decision, and is accepting input from the public until April 29. But last month, Mr. Clement said (also via Twitter) that if the regulator does not change its mind, the government will overturn the decision.

"The CRTC decision on usage-based billing for wholesale Internet service providers is quite simply the wrong way to proceed and is inconsistent with good public policies," Mr. Clement told the committee on Tuesday.

While the CRTC does not regulate the prices that individual Canadians pay for their Internet service, it does deal with wholesale pricing - meaning the prices companies such as Bell or Rogers charge to smaller companies for leasing space on their networks.

The CRTC forced the larger players to lease space to Internet providers such as TekSavvy Solutions Inc. But the regulator also ruled that the larger companies could charge extra if those independents go over a certain usage limit. The independent providers have argued that decision prevents them from offering "unlimited" use plans to their customers.

That means less competition in the market, Mr. Clement said on Tuesday.

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"There would be no need for further intervention on the retail side if competition were to exist," he said.

Larger service providers have said that they invested heavily to build their broadband networks and that they need to earn an adequate return on that investment.

Roughly 6 per cent of Canadians buy their Internet access through independent providers, Mr. Clement said. Even if heavy users gravitate toward those service plans, it should not affect prices for the majority of users, he said.

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