Must be gearing up for an election!
EDMONTON — Industry Minister Tony Clement is determined to promote Canada's digital economy — and if that means overturning last month's CRTC decision on usage-based billing for small Internet providers, so be it.
"We asked (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to review their decision and if they come back with the same decision, the cabinet would overrule it because it wouldn't be consistent with government policy . . . promoting competition and choice," Clement said Wednesday, following a forum at the University of Alberta. "You can't have competition and choice if you allow a major carrier to force its business model onto an independent service provider."
The CRTC ruled in late January that big Internet service providers — such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications — can continue to levy usage-based billing on smaller firms that offer Internet access to consumers.
The amount of bandwidth used by consumers has surged in recent years, as the availability of high-volume services, such as streaming video, has increased. But while Bell and Rogers have introduced tiered-billing plans that charge customers more, depending on how much bandwidth they consumer, small ISPs have built a business model on offering unlimited downloading capacity.
The CRTC decision enraged consumer groups, which suggest profit — not network-congestion concerns — is the central motive.
The Harper government announced a short time later that it will not implement the ruling, even as the regulators agreed to review the decision.
Clement also pointed Wednesday to his government's appeal of a CRTC ruling involving telecommunications firm Globalive.
The industry minister said he is "quite confident" the federal government will win in court, where it is appealing a court decision that threatens to force foreign-backed wireless startup Wind Mobile out of the market.
He told the U of A forum that Wind — with its Canadian operators and foreign debt — was "Canadian enough for us." The CRTC had disagreed in a ruling dating back to the fall of 2009 because most of Globalive's equity is owned by Orascom, an Egyptian telecom carrier.
The issue has to be settled before the next round of auctions for the 700- and 2500-MHz spectrum, Clement said, referring to the airwave frequencies that will soon be freed up when Canada's large broadcasters switch to all-digital transmission.
The 700-range is highly prized because signals at this frequency travel through walls, improving reception.
Clement said spectrum is the lifeblood of the digital economy — and without this new spectrum, the rollout of mobile broadband will be stalled.
"To have a proper auction, everyone has to know what the rules of the game are and to have some certainty as to what will be allowed," he said.
"Hopefully we can find a resolution prior to the auction (likely next year), because this adds one more layer of uncertainty over ways to finance an auction bid."
Canada's last spectrum auction was in mid-2008, when certain portions were set aside exclusively for new entrants — including Globalive.