CRTC Head Defends Meeting with Bell Exec to Parliamentary Committee

Appearing before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chairman Ian Scott defended his meeting with Bell executive (and current CEO) Mirko Bibic in an Ottawa pub, and the commission’s May 2021 decision regarding wholesale internet rates — reports The National Post.

“I meet with everyone pursuant to the rules,” Scott told the House of Commons industry committee, days after the Competitive Network Operators of Canada (CNOC) accused Scott of bias and asked him to recuse himself from internet matters. “We follow the same process in all cases.”

The CNOC is a collective of more than 30 independent, smaller internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada.

Both the CNOC and independent ISP TekSavvy have filed separate petitions asking the federal cabinet to overturn the CRTC’s May 2021 ruling, which reverted wholesale internet rates smaller ISPs have to pay big telecoms for network access, originally lowered by the CRTC itself in 2019, back to the higher 2016 numbers.

Scott has been put on blast time and again for the decision, which blatantly favours big telcos. A December 2019 meeting at an Ottawa pub with Mirko Bibic, now-CEO of Bell, in particular, has raised several questions of bias.

“The apprehension of bias and breach of procedural fairness persists, to the point where, as recently as Feb. 2, 2022, Chairperson Scott felt the need to defend himself against these allegations,” the CNOC said last week.

At committee, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith pointed out that the 2019 decision to lower wholesale internet rates in favour of smaller ISPs was made after three years of meticulous study that the CRTC itself described as comprehensive.

“Less than two years later, you reversed course almost entirely. How did you get it so wrong” he asked Scott.

The CRTC chair told the committee that the process of costing rates is complicated. “We were dealing with something like 150 costing models, 20,000 pages of evidence, over 100 rate elements to be calculated,” he said.

“Long story short, staff and the commissioners rendered a decision they believed to be correct … following an application for review-and-vary, we conducted a thorough analysis, we sought additional information from all parties, and based on that record, we identified errors.”

TekSavvy Vice President of Insight and Engagement, Peter Nowak, reacted to Scott’s explanation with: “In other words, all Bell, Rogers and the big guys have to do to get their way is flood the CRTC with information, to the point where it throws up its hands. That’s pretty unsettling going forward.”

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