CRTC will stay out of VoIP issues


TORONTO -- Canada's broadcast regulator on Thursday agreed to maintain a hands off approach to the Internet after the federal government a day earlier pulled the plug on regulation of Internet-based telephone services.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said it no longer plans to regulate voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) phone services provided by domestic phone and cable companies.

The CRTC, in a formal directive, said it will refrain "from exercising its powers and performing its duties" under the federal telecommunications act.

The move follows federal industry minister Maxime Bernier on Wednesday ordering the CRTC to reverse an earlier ruling on regulating VoIP services accessed via the Internet. That ruling would have enabled the CRTC to regulate Internet-based telephony like traditional phone services.

Forcing the about-face from the CRTC represents a slap for the regulator, with Bernier telling it not to impose watchdog powers where that might mean undue regulation and market-entry barriers.

Ottawa's curbing of CRTC power goes against long-standing protectionism that eased market entry for new or established Canadian players so they could occupy the playing field before international, mostly American players, crowded the market.

The CRTC's problem on Internet-based telephony has not seen a fight between Canadian and foreign companies as much as a battle between domestic phone and cable giants moving onto each other's turf in an increasingly converged digital space

Leonard St.-Aubin, director general of telecommunications policy at Industry Canada, Bernier's federal department, said there are safeguards in place to ensure phone giants like BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. do not use their pricing power to undercut smaller, emerging players in VoIP telephony, including cablecasters.