Bell Appeals CRTC’s Fibre Network Sharing Mandate

Bell is taking legal action against the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) recent decision, which ordered the telecom giant to share its fibre network with competitors.

According to the Globe and Mail, Bell has filed for leave to appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal, alleging that the CRTC committed a legal error and exceeded its jurisdiction. Additionally, Bell is seeking an interim stay of the CRTC’s decision pending the outcome of the appeal.

In documents set for submission to the Federal Court of Appeal, Bell argues that the CRTC’s order would cause the company “irreparable harm” and lead to numerous costs that cannot be recovered if the decision is not stayed and ultimately overturned.

This comes after the CRTC, on November 6, mandated Bell and Telus to provide wholesale internet service over their fibre-to-the-premises networks in Ontario and Quebec on a temporary basis within six months. The regulator plans to hold public hearings in February to determine the permanence of these measures.

Bell has reacted strongly to the CRTC’s decision, stating that it will reduce its network investment plans by over $1 billion in 2024-25, including a reduction of $500-million to $600-million next year. The company also criticized the interim rates set by the CRTC for independent internet service providers to access these fibre networks, although the CRTC described these rates as “workable” for smaller providers.

NDP MP Brian Masse previously slammed Bell, alleging the company was “blackmailing” Canadians in its response to roll back network investments.

The CRTC’s decision aims to improve affordability and increase internet options for consumers. The regulator noted a significant drop in the number of subscribers served by independent wholesale-based competitors in Ontario and Quebec, which decreased by 47% from the end of 2018 to 2022.

In its upcoming legal challenge, Bell alleges that the CRTC applied incorrect legal tests and adopted a procedurally unfair process by not properly informing stakeholders of the applied tests. Bell anticipates losses in customers and revenue, diversion of funds from more economically beneficial uses, and irrecoverable costs to implement the mandated fibre services.

The company estimates the required investment for building the necessary systems at $4.7 million, with additional expenses of $30 million for training and equipment. Bell says that at least $14 million of these costs would be unrecoverable if the appeal is successful.

This case marks the first instance of the CRTC mandating “aggregated” network access, which includes both local wires to homes or businesses and the longer-distance transport facilities. Since 2015, incumbents were only required to provide access to local connections, not the transport facilities.

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