A group of independent Internet service providers has won a temporary victory in their continuing fight with BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada over the wholesale pricing of Internet services.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled Friday that a new wholesale rate plan large carriers use to charge ISPs for connectivity will start Feb. 1 as scheduled.
ISPs use the wholesale rates to set the retail rates for their business and residential customers.
But Bell has been told to back off for the time being on they way it wants ISPs to conform to the new regime. Instead the commission said Bell has to offer a modified version for implementing the regime until the CRTC deals with a complaint.
The capacity-based wholesale billing plan – announced in November — will allow ISPs to match speeds of up to 25 Megabits per second the carriers have been offering for several years. ISPs say the inability to offer speeds that high has cost them subscribers.
But in a nod to complaints from the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), which represents ISPs such as Primus Canada and Teksavvy Solutions, the commission also said Bell can’t go ahead with its plan to force ISPs to separate their business and residential traffic to comply with the new wholesale regime. Instead, the commission modified the Bell plan until it can study CNOC’s complaint further.
Most ISPs buy their connectivity from Bell. A Bell spokesman said Friday the telco was studying the decision and couldn’t comment on it.
“We’re happy to see things moving forward,” CNOC president William Sandiford, who also heads a southern Ontario ISP called Telnet Communications, said of the commission’s decision.
“ISPs have been waiting for many, many years to have the speed matching aspects of the decision that came out in the fall properly implemented.
A delay because CNOC’s Bell complaint would have put its members “at a further disadvantage,” he said.
CNOC objects to Bell insistance that ISPs assign separate realms, or segregate, for business and residential traffic as a result of the CRTC’s November wholesale rate decision, which separate residential and business wholesale pricing regimes. In effect, Sandiford said, Bell’s stand meant ISPs will have to make their customers change their user names so the carrier can distinguish between residential and business customers.
The cost, Sandiford said, could be “enormous” to the customers of ISPs. There are easy ways for Bell to split the traffic, CNOC argues in its complaint.
With Friday’s interim decision, Sandiford said, ISPs will be able to keep business and residential Internet traffic mixed, at least for the time being. The commission also reduced new the wholesale business rate, he noted.
In its ruling Friday, the CRTC agreed Bell’s demand for ISPs separate their residential and business traffic “requires significant disruptions to both end-users and independent ISPs.” So while it is mulling over what to do about it, Bell will have to give ISPs a choice: They can either agree to Bell’s terms, or, temporarily allow ISPs to merge business and residential traffic.
The commission outlined a temporary rate schedule for Bell, which has until Feb. 8
Some ISPs have issued new customer rate schedules in anticipation of the Wednesday’s deadline, but others have been holding back to see how the CRTC dealt with CNOC’s Bell complaint.
Sandiford believes his members have already announced changes and there won’t be a sudden release by ISPs of new rates in the next few days, but the head of another group of ISPs disagrees. Tom Copeland, who leads the Canadian Association of Independent Providers (CAIP) said Friday most of his members have been waiting for a final CRTC decision.
In fact he was surprised that the commission gave an interim go-ahead to the new capacity-based wholesale rate regime without waiting to deal with the CNOC Bell complaint.
As a result some ISPs will be “scrambling” to announce new rates, he said.