Small internet providers have won a critical fight as the CRTC has mandated that major internet providers must provide the highest broadband speeds available when they sell to resellers.
The CRTC decided that the companies that own Canada’s internet infrastructure, big companies like Telus and Bell, can’t hoard top speeds for themselves any longer. The key ruling came down on Monday and was based on hearings from last spring.
The CRTC said that the decision should help ensure greater industry competition by ensuring public access and choice. Canada’s small ISPs, of which there are many, only account for just a little over 7% of the market. Their existence, according to some commentators out there, is evidence of a free and open market for internet service in the country. But their market share, coupled with the practices of the big companies in terms of selling access, leaves that sentiment in doubt with more serious analysis.
With this decision, the smaller internet providers have an opportunity to level the access playing field.
A similar decision had been reached in 2008, but Bell Aliant, Bell Canada and Telus petitioned the government to review it. The plan for the large providers this time out is to travel the same path, so this CRTC decision can be expected to get kicked to cabinet within 90 days.
That’s not to say that Monday’s CRTC decision was all good news for small providers. The commission did rule against the small ISPs gaining source access to broadband networks. The fear was that innovation among the larger firms would be hurt by giving the small firms too much access, so the small ISPs remain hostage to the traffic management techniques used by the big players.
The aforementioned decision was greeted with one dissenting opinion from CRTC commissioner Timothy Denton. Denton mentioned that small ISPs, as a result of being blocked off of source access, are being squashed out of their own innovative opportunities in favour of giving the large companies more rope.
How and if this decision will have any industry remains to be seen. It’s probable that the larger providers will work overtime to produce a regulatory logjam as they feign “confusion” and throw pity parties, so the notion of equal access still remains to be seen.
For the government to roll over on this issue would be unfortunate but hardly unlikely, as the big providers have had their run of the store for a considerable time now. The once-innovative small ISPs have been systematically drowned out in favour of large companies. Those access-controlling companies continue to press the angles, ensuring their market control over a deceptively “diverse” crowd of small ISPs with little choice but to play along.