in Culture, Telephony

Government of Canada to override CRTC on VoIP regulation

As many of my regular readers know, I’m an open-source VoIP hobbyist, and as such, I’m a "member" of the Toronto Asterisk Users’ Group (I use the quotations because the group does not have membership requirements nor is it a formal organization per se). One of the hot topics recently on the TAUG mailing list was the Government of Canada’s recent decision to override the CRTC‘s position that VoIP is a telephony service and should be regulated as such.

The CRTC has traditionally regulated telephone companies and set minimum pricing on services such as land lines and DSL so that the incumbent carriers like Bell Canada cannot use predatory pricing to drive non-incumbent firms out of business, only to raise those prices later when the marketplace has been clear-cut. Now that the government has proposed to override the commission, VoIP service will become a free-for-all, with hobbyist and startup VoIP providers like Unlimitel and AtlasVoice getting squeezed by the incumbents for large commercial deployments.

This is bad news for VoIP telephony in Canada and will greatly reduce consumer choice, except for those consumers, such as hobbyists, who are willing to take an "anything but Bell" attitude. The government’s actions in overriding the CRTC’s fair and thorough process aimed at protecting consumers is a blatant demonstration that it is pro-big-business to the exclusion of all other factors. (That process, by the way, arrived twice at the outcome that VoIP should be regulated like regular telephony, despite a Conservative government Privy Council Order which attempted to pressure them into reconsidering their original decision.)

It’s a shame that this particular issue is too esoteric for the mainstream press to cover, but I think it’s very much a bellwether for how the government plans to treat other emerging technology trends that threaten traditional big-business hegemony.

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