Aliant Telecom Inc. is unhappy with a recent CRTC ruling not allowing it to decrease rates on certain Centrex services and has filed a review and vary application with the regulator. The regional ILEC casts itself as the defender of the consumer in the dispute. "One of the purposes of the price caps regime was to give regulated companies the ability and incentive to be responsive to their customers and to market conditions," lawyer Daniel Campbell of the Cox Hanson O’Reilly Matheson law firm writes on behalf of the telco. "The commission should not deny customers the benefits of better prices from a customer-focused company by refusing to approve the company’s price reductions which are being proposed in response to a competitive marketplace." Last year, Aliant had asked for a new five-year contract rate for Band A customers in Nova Scotia with more than 12,000 Centrex business service access, and a five-year contract rate for customers in the province with more than 6,000 Centrex telephone answering/voicemail mailboxes. The CRTC ruled against the application in Telecom Decision 2003-50. It said the proposal would result in further rate de-averaging because an additional rate would become available in Rate Band A. The commission added that Aliant did not provide "sufficient rationale" for further rate de-averaging. Campbell reminds the CRTC that it has not provided any principles or guidelines as to what rationale would be acceptable. He can find no consistency in the regulatory decisions so far. The review and vary application quotes newspaper articles that say Nova Scotia in general, and Halifax in particular, are the most competitive local telephony markets in Canada and perhaps in North America. "There are three CLECs serving the Halifax marketplace, two of which compete aggressively in the business market generally and the Centrex market specifically, with large digital switches in place and large amounts of capacity available to compete in the market," Campbell writes. AT&T Canada (now known as Allstream Corp.) filed comments opposing the tariff changes. It said Aliant was going to slash the rate for one customer in one region but keep its current prices in the rest of its serving area. This would prevent local competition from developing, the CLEC stated. Aliant confirms the situation, agreeing that only one client would realize benefits from the proposed new tariff. But that’s just the result of local economics, the telco says. "It is an unfortunate fact of commercial life in Atlantic Canada that there are a limited number of large customers. It is not surprising that at the large end of any tariff or price scale there may be only one or two potential customers," the Aliant R&V application states. "However, those customers expect and are entitled to competitive market responses to their needs. Neither Aliant nor its customers should be penalized because of the relatively small size of this market." Campbell quotes the sections of the most recent price cap ruling, Telecom Decision 2002-34, which moved Centrex to the uncapped basket of services. In the ruling, the CRTC did set more stringent limits on de-averaging within bands. Aliant’s legal counsel reminds the regulator about the purpose of those provisions. "The constraints are established in order to provide customers with price protection - not to provide competitors with a price umbrella," he writes. "Second, it is geographic de-averaging within a band which is under consideration." Campbell notes that the same day the Aliant ruling was handed down, the CRTC disallowed a similar request from MTS Communications Inc. in Telecom Decision 2003-51. Yet a few weeks later it approved a Centrex tariff revision for the Manitoba telco in Telecom Order 2003-420. MTS will not file its own R&V on 2003-51.