Today Minister Champagne announced the final Policy Direction to the CRTC, and it's a welcome statement for internet competition in Canada. Back in June 2022, the first draft of this new Policy Direction was released for feedback, and now, almost a year later, we have the final version. Some would argue this is "too little, too late" but the eternal optimist in me sees this as a potentially positive move.
The new Policy Direction represents a major change for the CRTC - the previous version of the policy direction, told the CRTC to 'rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible,' whereas the new direction tells them to consider "competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation”. It then goes on to direct the CRTC to foster internet competition specifically through wholesale services and, depending on how you read the policy, may enable aggregated access to high-speed fiber to the home (FTTH) services, something CNOC and others have been asking for years. Overall it sets out the following objectives for the CRTC to follow:
- Encourage all forms of competition and investment
- Foster affordability and lower prices
- Ensure that affordable access to high-quality, reliable and resilient telecommunications services is available in all regions of Canada
- Enhance and protect the rights of consumers, including rights related to accessibility
- Reduce barriers to entry into the market and to competition
- Enable innovation in telecommunications services
- Stimulate investment in research and development
It has some further positive notes, including ensuring that CRTC proceedings and decisions are "transparent, predicable, and choerent" and that proceedings and decisions should be timely, including timelines for setting tariffs. Hopefully the days of regulation at sloth speed will be long gone.
All of these are very welcome directions from the perspective of independent ISPs. But as I wrote last week, there are almost no indpendant ISPs left to benfit from these changes. So while this new policy direction gives the incoming Chair the ability to quickly reverse the disastrous decisions made under the Ian Scott regime at the CRTC, time is of the essence. If there is hope of restoring the vibrant ecosystem of independent ISPs consumers enjoyed a few years ago we need to get the remaining players wholesale access to fiber to the home as soon as possible so they can stand a chance of competing against the incumbants. We also need someone to look into the predatory pricing of the incumbant flanker brands, but that may be more of an issue for the Competition Bureau than the CRTC.
Perhaps with this new policy direction all the ISPs who sold in 2022 did so prematurely, and the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't an on-coming train, but it's far too soon to tell. One could argue that with these changes new competitors may enter the marketplace, but to me the odds of that still seem low. Imagine going to investors in our current economic climate and asking to start a business that could be destoryed at the stroke of the regulatory pen - I imagine you'd be laughed out of the room. But if the CRTC acts quickly, the remaining competitors will have a chance to survive, and maybe some optimistic investors will attempt to enter the space, living on a prayer that this new boss will be far more forgiving than the old boss.