But that overwhelming support, 28 to 5, contradicts the position of Mayor John Tory — who still holds at least $5 million in shares of large telecom Rogers, where he was previously an executive — after he sent a letter in favour of an appeal for big telecom companies.
A Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling last summer ordered large companies like Rogers and Bell to provide smaller internet companies access to their high-speed fibre networks. Bell is currently appealing that ruling to cabinet.
Councillor Mike Layton asked council to support the original CRTC ruling as a city issue — equitable access to high-speed internet.
“I think Toronto made a good decision. I hope it sends a message to cabinet that they should uphold the CRTC decision to have more competition in the internet marketplace. That hopefully will provide more affordability so more families can access the internet,” he told the Star following the vote.
“Really, the mayor shouldn’t have sent a letter without the voice of council behind it. I’m unsure why he would have.”
Tory was away during the vote while he meets with other big city mayors in Ottawa. At press time Thursday night, Tory had not responded to a request to his office for reaction to council's vote. But he defended his letter in support of Bell’s appeal during an earlier news conference.
“If you put politics aside, there are a lot of people who would agree with me on the issue of principle, which is that when people make these investments, they have to be able to garner proper return on them, otherwise they just won’t make them. And I think that would be very damaging for the city,” Tory said, arguing the city needs those company’s high-speed infrastructure investments.
While Tory's letter is in support of only Bell, reversing the CRTC decision would also benefit Rogers because it owns a network. Asked why he would wade into the debate considering he has a financial stake in Rogers, Tory denied any wrongdoing.
“I think that I’ve conducted myself in office, on every issue, I’ve handled in a way that I think is straight up and honest and in this case I’m speaking to an issue of principle,” he said. “I just have a view with respect to the need we have to get these companies to make these investments for the people of Toronto and for our economy and for our future, and I think that when you’re in a position of leadership you have a responsibility to say that.”
Apart from his stock holdings, Tory is still a member of the advisory committee of the Rogers Control Trust, which oversees “significant transactions” related to Rogers’ assets, according to company documents. Though he resigned from the Rogers board as promised when he was elected, he refused to step away from the advisory committee, saying he made a promise to former boss and friend, the late Ted Rogers.
In his letter, on his official letterhead dated Dec. 17, Tory said he was writing to “express concern” about the CRTC ruling, noting Bell’s $1-billion fibre project announced last year and arguing those companies “deserve to be treated fairly.”
“I would urge you take the necessary action to protect Toronto’s global competitiveness and future economic prospects.”
Small internet providers, who benefit from the CRTC ruling that allows them greater access to the internet service marketplace, questioned Tory’s stance Thursday.
“Internet service is, in our opinion, as essential as water,” said George Burger, an advisor for VMedia Inc. which offers internet, home phone and television services to about 18,000 homes, mostly in the GTA. “Mayor Tory is essentially saying a private entity should control water.”
Though Rogers is not named in the appeal, Burger said the petition submitted by Bell is a “proxy” for Rogers as well.
Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for TekSavvy Solutions Inc., which provides internet and phone services to more than 250,000 homes, said the CRTC decision came after a public process that lasted two years.
“Torontonians clearly like having multiple players to choose from and the CRTC said that’s good. That’s consistent with Canada’s telecommunications policy,” he said, adding the larger telecoms are well compensated for sharing their fibre networks.
“We’re really surprised to see the mayor of Toronto asking cabinet to overrule the CRTC on that.”
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson also submitted a letter similar to Tory’s saying he was concerned about the CRTC ruling and the impact on both the business community and residents.
Unlike Toronto and Ottawa, the City of Calgary submitted a 28-page letter defending the CRTC decision, saying it struck a “careful balance that advances multiple goals.” That letter, asking cabinet reject Bell’s appeal, was sent on behalf of Calgary city council.
Responding to a tweet from Layton on Thursday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Calgary “has a very deep expertise in this area... It is vital that cities get this right.”
Councillors John Campbell, Christin Carmichael Greb, Mark Grimes, Stephen Holyday and Jim Karygiannis voted against Layton’s motion. All of Tory’s executive members who were at their seats voted in favour of the motion.
Please share this