TORONTO — Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the world for their cellphone, Internet and TV services, but those bills could change depending on how Canada's broadcast regulator handles some major issues it's expected to decide on next year.
The CRTC has several important hearings, reviews and rulings expected in 2017. Here's a look at four of them.
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In the fall, the CRTC held a weeklong hearing examining differential pricing, which occurs when a company offers customers the same or similar products at different prices. Specifically, the regulator looked at how Internet service providers use differential pricing with their data plans.
The review came following complaints that some companies were not including certain music and video streaming services toward customer data plans, thereby acting as gatekeepers, influencing consumption and making it difficult for some providers to enter the marketplace. OpenMedia, a consumer advocacy group, has been calling for the elimination of data caps on home and wireless Internet plans. Others, however, argue the practice gives customers more choice.
The CRTC is expected to set out a policy governing differential pricing next year.
Wholesale Internet Rates
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The CRTC will set final rates for what Bell, Rogers, Telus, SaskTel, Shaw, Cogeco, MTS and Videotron must charge smaller companies for access to their high-speed networks. The smaller service providers rely on those networks to offer Internet, TV and telephone services.
The regulator set interim rates in October that were mostly lower — in some cases by up to 89 per cent — than what many of the incumbents wanted to charge. The CRTC says it's setting the fees to help foster competition.
If the final fees remain close to the interim ones, the smaller companies could pass on the savings to consumers by lowering their prices. That could put pressure on the bigger companies to follow suit.
However, some of the incumbents have warned that low fees may slow or halt their broadband network investment — a threat some experts take with a grain of salt.
The final rates are expected in the first half of 2017.
Wireless Code Review
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In February, the CRTC will hold a hearing to determine whether the wireless code of conduct, which took effect in December 2013, needs to be improved.
After hearing from the public, the regulator created the code in part to help consumers understand their plans better, prevent bill shock, shorten contract lengths and lower cancellation fees.
The CRTC started gathering feedback on the effectiveness of the code in September and will accept more submissions from the public between Feb. 6 and 14.
So far, it has heard complaints about high prices, surprise charges, phone unlocking fees and wireless data limits, among other issues. If the CRTC concludes the code needs to be updated, some of those gripes could be addressed.
Basic Telecommunications Services
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Last year, the CRTC launched its review of basic telecommunications services. It sought to determine which ones Canadians need to have to be able to meaningfully participate in the digital economy, as well as what the CRTC's role is in ensuring all Canadians have affordable service options available to them.
OpenMedia argued high-speed Internet access should be redefined as a basic service. Currently, low-speed Internet, individual line touch-tone phone service, a printed copy of the current phone book on request, and a number of phone services, including emergency, fall into that category.
It called on the CRTC to give all Canadians access to broadband Internet for $30 monthly, and to provide better, more affordable access to the country's remote and rural communities where broadband investment has lagged.
The review could determine sufficient upload and download speeds, and create funding mechanisms to support the ability to supply modern telecommunications services.
A spokeswoman for the CRTC says a decision may come before the end of the year.