For years independent Internet service providers have complained about the amount of confidential cost figures incumbent carriers file with the federal telecommunications regulator.
It’s information ISPs can’t see, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) uses those numbers in part to set the wholesale rates ISPs pay incumbents like BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada for Internet connectivity.
But on Thursday the commission announced it will hold a consultation into whether ISPs should have more public access to that some of those confidential cost studies and markups.
In making the announcement the commission acknowledged that “parties other than the incumbent carriers” may have expertise in evaluating those numbers.
It may be a coincidence, but the commission’s move comes three weeks after the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), which represents a number of ISPs, asked the commission to take another look at the wholesale rates it recently set.
Those rates, CNOC complained, used a “considerable amount of information filed in confidence by incumbents” that the group couldn’t see.
“This greatly hampered the ability of interveners to analyze and participate fully in the regulatory discourse leading to the decisions,” CNOC said in a press release announcing its challenge.
William Sandiford, who heads CNOC as well as Oshawa-based ISP Telnet Communications, said he isn't sure if the consultation is as a result of his group's call for the CRTC to review the wholesale rates decision. But he added that 'we're excited to see the CRTC is going to undertake this process to see how [the filing of competitor information] can become more transparent."
CNOC would prefer all submissions to be public, he said, but it that's impractical the CRTC should follow the procedure of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, which lets lawyers and experts see confidential corporate filings so they can make arguments to the tribunal.
It’s expected that the incumbents will vigorously oppose any disclosure of what they feel is competitive information.
Under CRTC rules, any party to a commission proceeding can designate information as confidential if it is a trade secret, if it is always treated as confidential by the organization, if its disclosure could prejudice the competitive position of a person or result in material financial gain or loss.
There is a list of costs which aren’t disclosed by incumbents that is listed by the CRTC, ranging from annual demand estimates to the cost of equipment. For each one the commission wants to know whether they should be publicly disclosed and why it would serve the public interest – or, if it should be confidential why disclosure would cause harm.