BUSINESS

CRTC Gets New Powers To Fine Telecoms

12/18/2014 08:56 EST | Updated 12/18/2014 08:59 EST
CP

Watch out, telcos: Canada’s telecommunications regulator is now armed and dangerous.

As part of a budget implementation bill, the CRTC has been granted the power to levy fines against telecoms that violate the Telecommunications Act. The broadcast regulator can now fine telecoms up to $10 million for a first violation, and up to $15 million for subsequent violations.

“This will ensure Canadians have access to a world-class communication system — one in which there is sustainable competition and a choice of innovative content and services,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement.

Consumer advocacy group OpenMedia says this gives the CRTC the tools it needs to combat practices such as slowing down internet traffic, “abusive” billing and efforts by big telcos to block new competitors from entering the market.

“Together with other wins, such as the Wireless Code of Conduct, these new powers are a major step toward reining in our telecom giants,” the group said in a statement. “Now we just need the government not to shy away from imposing fines large enough to keep Big Telecom in line, so Canadians can experience the choice and affordability they deserve."

In another move aimed at making the telecom industry more responsive to consumers, the Harper government is expected to announce a large new auction of wireless bandwidth, according to an unconfirmed report at Global News.

Industry Minister James Moore is expected to announce Thursday that the federal government will expand the amount of wireless bandwidth available to carriers by 60 per cent, with the aim of ensuring that smaller players end up with a quarter of available spectrum.

“This unprecedented release … is a first of its kind in Canadian history. This plan will drive down prices for Canadian wireless consumers, while giving them more choice in the market and better services on the latest wireless technologies,” an unnamed government source told Global.

The Harper government has made increasing competition in the wireless field a policy priority, despite arguments by industry analysts who say Canada, like many other countries, may not be able to support a fourth major wireless player.

But the Competition Bureau of Canada believes a fourth major wireless company is possible, and the resulting lower prices would save consumers $1 billion a year.

Canada's Unfair Wireless Prices (2014)