Get moving: Bell to feds

Bell Canada says the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is taking so long to process applications for new telecom services that it’s hurting companies on the hunt for novel communication solutions.

On Nov. 8, Bell submitted an application to the CRTC calling on the Commission to speed up its decision-making processes.

“Things are moving too slowly at the Commission,” said Mirco Bibic, Bell’s chief of regulatory affairs in Gatineau, Que. “It hampers the ability of customers to get services from incumbent carriers quickly. And obviously it hampers our ability as a service provider to deliver those services.”

Bell notes that although the CRTC receives fewer tariff applications from incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) than it did in the past, the Commission takes more time deal with them.

According to Bibic, between September 2003 and September 2004, Bell sent 84 tariff applications. On average, it took 110 business days for the CRTC to respond with an interim approval, a complete approval or a refusal. Back in 1984, when the telecom landscape was more heavily regulated than it is today, Bell filed 345 tariff applications. The CRTC responded within 38 business days on average.

Bibic said there’s no reason for the increasing delay. “We know what the rules are. There are clearly defined price floors. There are clearly defined, for some services, price cap rules. We have a band to work with, a ceiling and a floor. Given that, there’s no reason for the Commission to take so much time to review tariffs for certain services.”

Bell’s Nov. 8 application offers a solution. “For price decreases or increases for services subject to the price cap, we propose that the Commission issue an interim ruling within 10 days,” Bibic said.

“If we don’t hear back from them in 10 days, we’re deemed to have interim approval. Then they have 50 days to issue a final approval or refuse the application outright.”

For new services, Bibic said, Bell suggests the CRTC should respond within 40 business days to provide interim approval. It should then make its final decision within 20 business days.

“Our proposal would only allow the CRTC to hold it back for two reasons: it raises policy issues — say a price increase for a service integral to the hearing impaired; or it seems at a first-blush review not to pass the imputation test and requires further study,” Bibic said. “In our model, if a tariff were deferred for either of those reasons, [the CRTC] would still have an obligation to issue a ruling within 75 days from the filing. It wouldn’t be an indefinite review period.”

Bibic said the CRTC could use the time, money and people currently assigned to ILEC tariff applications elsewhere, such as the VoIP policy framework that the Commission is undertaking now. When the CRTC started its VoIP policy review earlier this year, Bell and other telcos complained that the Commission was moving too quickly, that it wasn’t giving them enough time to prepare. Now Bell says the CRTC should speed up. Is the service provider sending mixed messages? Not at all, according to Bibic.

“We weren’t proposing the time in which the Commission would issue its final ruling should change,” he said of the VoIP complaint. “We were proposing a change in how that time is distributed: more time for parties to make their cases, and less time at the end for the Commission to write a decision.”

In February the CRTC unveiled an expedited procedure for resolving competitive issues, a way for parties involved in disputes to settle differences quickly. “There’s an example of expedited procedures working,” Bibic said.

Bell and other telcos have long complained that the CRTC takes too long to make some decisions. The CRTC has often responded that developing telecom policy is difficult and involves many constituents. “There will always be criticism,” said David Colville, former CRTC vice-chairman, telecommunications, at a conference earlier this year. A CRTC spokesperson said the Commission wouldn’t comment on Bell’s application.

A spokesperson for Telus Corp. said his firm’s regulatory officials “certainly share Bell’s concern” about the speed at which the CRTC handles tariffs.

Chris Peirce, MTS Allstream Inc.’s vice-president of regulatory and government affairs in Ottawa, said the Commission is notoriously slow. He also said it’s interesting that Bell would complain about the turtlish pace on retail services when his company has been waiting a long time for decisions on wholesale services. “We’re still waiting for a final decision on a proceeding that the CRTC initiated in August of 2002.”

Lawrence Surtees, a telecom analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said Bell’s quick decision-making proposal wouldn’t necessarily help the industry. He likened the service provider’s proposal to anti-social behaviour. “It’s like going into a busy deli at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and saying, ‘I think my request is simpler than everybody else’s. I should go first.’ You’re not going to get too much sympathy from everybody else in the store.”

Bibic said Bell hopes the CRTC applies the quick thinking that goes into competitive-issues resolution to tariffs.

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