Ultimately, regulation exists to serve the interests of customers. In telecom, its goals include ensuring that essential services are universally available and promoting competition so customers have choices. Simple enough? Not always.
According to Bell Canada, a CRTC decision last year didn’t
serve the interests of some Bell Canada customers at all – and Bell is waiting for the Federal Court of Appeal to hear an appeal of the decision.
Last September, the CRTC ruled that Bell Canada had to make public the terms of some special deals it made with large customers. Bell’s Nexxia unit had put together custom packages, or bundles, of services for the customers.
In 2002, the commission had told Bell to file tariffs for these services, because as an incumbent carrier, it was forbidden from providing services not covered by a tariff. Bell supplied the information to the CRTC in confidence, arguing that it was strategic information its customers didn’t want made public. Some competitors, such as Allstream, objected.
“”They didn’t follow the requirements that were set out for them in the Act,”” says Chris Peirce, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at what is now MTS Allstream Inc. “”We didn’t have a hope of course of replicating those services for those customers.””
Lawson Hunter, executive vice-president of BCE Inc., counters that while Bell’s competitors are worried about matching its offerings, its customers have similar worries about their competitors duplicating telecommunications technology they feel gives them a competitive advantage.
In its September 2003 decision, the CRTC ruled that the public interest served by disclosing the information outweighed any harm that might result. Bell disagrees. The issue now, Hunter says, is the extent to which the commission should take customers’ interests into account in its decisions. The court will decide.