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TekSavvy appeals directly to consumers in battle with big phone, cable companies

TORONTO — TekSavvy Solutions Inc. is appealing to Canadian consumers for support in a politically charged battle between Canada’s independent internet service providers and the big phone and cable companies.

Bell, Rogers and Canada’s other major phone and cable companies asked the federal cabinet in November to overrule a 2019 regulatory decision that slashes how much they can charge independent ISPs like TekSavvy.

The industry giants argued the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission overstepped its authority in August by cutting wholesale capacity rates by up to 43 per cent and chopping access rates up to 77 per cent.

Canada’s small and mid-sized ISPs collectively serve about one million households using infrastructure they either own or rent.

TekSavvy vice-president Janet Lo said Monday that the Chatham-based company — Canada’s largest independent ISP — has launched a campaign to urge the public and politicians to support the CRTC.

The campaign will include billboards, transit ads, radio advertising and social media, she added.

An ad included in a TekSavvy press release asks, “Tired of being gouged?”, and urges consumers to “speak up.”

“We’re just trying general awareness, to make sure all Canadians know that they can have their voices heard and talk to their MPs if this issue is important to them,” Lo said in an interview from Ottawa.

The cabinet has set Feb. 14 as the deadline for receiving comments on the issue and TekSavvy says it will collect comments through the website Paylesstoconnect.ca.

Bell and a group of other mainstream internet service providers have also launched complementary but separate challenges through the Federal Court of Appeal and the CRTC itself.

Among other things, one of the key issues in dispute is whether the CRTC or the carriers themselves are in the most qualified to calculate how much it costs the big providers to provide wholesale infrastructure.

The big carriers argue that the CRTC’s review process — which took more than three years to complete — was flawed and will undermine confidence required for them to risk billions of dollars to build high-quality networks.

TekSavvy argues that the big carriers are attempting to use the CRTC, courts and cabinet to “game the system with impunity” by using inflated wholesale costs that cripple their smaller rivals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.B)

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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