Bell seeks to appeal CRTC decision allowing carriers’ access to its fibre network

By Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press

BCE Inc. is seeking to appeal a regulatory decision that will allow independent companies to sell internet services to their customers using its fibre network in Ontario and Quebec, saying it is at risk of suffering irreparable harm.

The parent company of Bell Canada filed documents with the Federal Court of Appeal late Thursday requesting permission to appeal the CRTC’s temporary ruling, and for a stay of the decision pending the outcome of the court process.

“The decision will have far-reaching impacts on Canadians’ access to high-speed internet beyond the interim period in which it is in effect,” the company said in its filings.

The CRTC announced on Nov. 6 it would require large telephone companies, namely Bell and Telus Corp., to provide competitors with access to their fibre-to-the-home networks within six months.

The regulator said the timeline would allow companies to prepare their networks and develop information technology and billing systems.

The move is meant to stimulate competition for internet services in Ontario and Quebec, where independent internet providers now serve 47 per cent fewer customers than they did two years ago.

The regulator said its ruling was in line with Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s direction earlier this year for the CRTC to enhance consumer rights.

It represented a partial decision in a broader review launched by the CRTC in March into the rates that smaller competitors pay the major telecom companies for access to their networks.

That review, which could potentially determine whether the CRTC’s direction will be made permanent and applied to other provinces, remains ongoing. The next public hearing set for Feb. 12, 2024.

The CRTC also set interim rates that smaller competitors will pay for access to fibre networks.

In its court filings, Bell called its fibre service its “flagship” home and business internet offering which provides speeds at least twice as fast as cable internet. The company said the technology is “exceedingly expensive,” having spent around $4 billion per year every year on it over the past decade.

The service “is a distinguishing factor for Bell and is crucial to Bell’s competitive position in the market,” it wrote, arguing the CRTC’s decision will “undermine Bell’s competitiveness and its multibillion-dollar investment in network infrastructure.”

Hours after the CRTC announced its decision last week, Bell said it would cut network investment plans by more than $1 billion in 2024-25, including a minimum of $500 million next year. Bell said that was on top of having already decreased its 2023 spending plans by $100 million in anticipation of the CRTC’s decision.

Based on a cost study, Bell said it would have to spend more than $30 million to adhere to the CRTC’s decision and allow smaller companies to access its fibre network infrastructure, of which around $14 million will be “unrecoverable.”

“This capital would otherwise be available for projects that would benefit Bell’s competitive positioning and revenues,” it said.

Bell noted the CRTC’s decision did not apply to all carriers that build networks — cable companies such as Rogers Communications Inc. were unaffected — and that the regional focus disproportionately targets areas where only Bell has built its fibre network.

“If the decision is not stayed and is ultimately overturned by this court, then Bell will suffer irreparable harm through the loss of customer and revenue,” it said.

Bell argued the regulator erred in law when it made its decision because it did not use the correct test to arrive at it, nor did it inform stakeholders of the test it would use.

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