Independent ISPs want CRTC chair to be recused from internet competition decisions

An industry group representing independent internet service providers has filed an application with Canada’s telecom regulator requesting that its chair, Ian Scott, recuse himself from files related to competition between large internet providers and smaller ones.

The request comes after a controversial reversal last year by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) of its own 2019 decision lowering the rates large phone and cable companies can charge smaller internet service providers (ISPs) for access to their networks.

The Competitive Network Operators of Canada (CNOC) is asking for Mr. Scott to be recused from deciding any matters relating to internet competition until the Federal Court rules on TekSavvy Solutions Inc.’s appeal of the wholesale broadband rates ruling.

CNOC’s application, filed Thursday, says that Mr. Scott’s recusal is “crucial to restore public and stakeholder confidence in the CRTC, to protect it from further institutional damage, and to avoid the taint of bias.”

A spokesperson for the CRTC said the commission does not comment on active files.

In order to encourage competition in the internet market, the CRTC requires larger providers to sell network access to smaller players at regulated rates. The independent ISPs, including TekSavvy, then sell internet service to their own customers.

In August, 2019, the telecom regulator slashed the rates that the large telecoms can charge and ordered them to make substantial retroactive payments – at the time totalling an estimated $325-million, according to court documents – to independent ISPs to compensate them for the higher, interim rates that had been in place since 2016.

The ruling prompted legal and regulatory challenges from the large telecoms, who argued the new rates were too low and would stifle network investments. Both the Federal Court of Appeal and the federal cabinet declined to overturn the CRTC’s ruling, leaving the final decision up to the regulator itself.

After a lengthy review, the commission reversed its 2019 decision, saying that it found significant errors, and opted to largely maintain the interim rates that have been in place since 2016, with some adjustments.

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