The CRTC has announced it has denied Bell’s request for the Commission to temporarily suspend its collection of money for the Broadband Fund.
The CRTC determined in 2018 that it would collect, through the Broadband Fund, up to C$750 million from Canadian telcos with an annual revenue of at least C$10 million over five years, starting in 2020.
By the end of 2022, the Commission had collected C$375 million, awarded C$227 million and distributed C$46 million, which means that C$148 million has been collected but not awarded.
Bell, hence, requested in a Part 1 Application filed in December last year that the excess C$148 million be returned to contributors, as the Commission will be unable to review funding requests in time to award or distribute the sum in 2023.
“The Commission has obviously collected more money from the industry than it can possibly distribute in the next two years. This is an incongruence that must be remedied.”
Bell also contends that the CRTC’s decision to collect an additional C$150 million in 2023, will “only exacerbate the problem,” requesting that the Commission stop collecting money for the Broadband Fund until it has conducted a policy review of the fund, slated for July 2023.
Sasktel expressed support for Bell’s application, along with Telus, Cogeco, and Eastlink, saying that only one project has been awarded within Saskatchewan from the Broadband Fund, for C$9.5 million, while there remain pending many valid projects in front of the Commission that are necessary to enhance connectivity.
The CRTC determined that Bell’s request was invalid through a three-part legal test: 1) Is this a serious issue, 2) Is it irreparably harming the company, 3) whether the balance of convenience favours its request for a stay, considering the public interest.
Though the Commission acknowledged that Bell raised a serious concern, it ruled that the telco giant did not meet the two other criteria.
The fund collected from Bell, according to the CRTC, represented only one per cent of Bell’s C$13.4 billion capital expenditures in 2022, adding that “the Broadband Fund is a known cost of business and the amounts in questions have been in the public domain since 2016.”
For the third criterion, the CRTC said pausing collection and resuming would be “burdensome” and “inconvenient” to fee payers.
It is hard to contend that Bell bears irreparable harm from what it’s alleging, especially after it’s been swallowing up smaller internet service providers and its recent agreement to acquire yet another company, a Montreal-based cloud solutions provider.
But the misalignment of funds collected and awarded by the CRTC was an important concern raised that is now buried as an unsuccessful request. We can hope there’s more clarification in the policy review expected in July.
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