Bell Canada says its request for symmetric regulations between triple play providers will benefit both telcos and cablecos alike. Its critics, however, accuse the telecom behemoth of trying to tinker with the regulatory agenda if it gets the chance. On November 6, the telco filed an application with the CRTC seeking one set of regulations for companies that provide telephony, TV and high-speed Internet service. It wants the commission to hold hearings to look at the rules for bundling, resale, winback promotions and promotions in general. "Basically we’re saying the rules should be the same for service providers who are offering a triple play where one of the products in the triple they have a dominant position in," Lawson Hunter, executive VP of BCE Inc., explains to Network Letter. "So we’re not saying that the cable guys should be treated like the telcos or that the telcos should be treated like the cable guys. We’re just saying whatever the rules are, they should be the same for everybody." That a giant like Bell should be proposing such a measure amazes the acting president of the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA). Michael Hennessy pulls no punches when describing his reaction to the filing. "It’s as audacious as it is deceptive. Let’s face it, these guys, Bell, according to their numbers, which we would probably dispute, have said they have 97.3% of the market," he tells NL. "Even Oliver Twist would be embarrassed to ask for more." Hunter points to the differences between the way dominance is handled in the telephony and cable markets. The Bell filing says that, because the two sectors have evolved differently, the current regulations impose greater restrictions on telcos than cablecos with similar bundles. He expanded on that idea with NL. "We say that cable in the video product area is dominant. They say they’re forborne and therefore it means ‘we’re not dominant.’ We say that’s not really quite true and we don’t think the commission in the decisions that set up that rule equated forbearance with market dominance. And on the telephony side, the test really is a more fine-tuned analysis of the state of competition and whether there really is workable competition. So we’re saying that we think the rules need to be the same and we obviously are not dominant on anything other than any telephony product." The CCTA’s Hennessy dismisses such reasoning."The satellite right now has 2 million households," he says. "Twenty per cent of the multi-channel market is satellite and the majority of that is Bell. So when they give up 20% of the local market, then let’s talk about that." Bell dedicates a great amount of ink in its application discussing the emergence of Voice over IP (VoIP). It refers to the capabilities of the major cablecos in this country such as Rogers Cable Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., Vidéotron ltée, and Cogeco Cable Inc. It cites EastLink Ltd.’s use of circuit-switches to deliver telephony in the Maritimes and the intentions of Vonage Holdings Corp. to offer VoIP in the Canadian market. "However, before they offer service, these companies should know the rules under which they will operate," Bell writes. "For example, what obligations will they have, such as regarding the provision of 911, or what will be the terms of interconnection with other service providers?" The telco is asking the CRTC to consider what rules, if any, should be imposed on the delivery of VoIP. It wants those proceedings to be part of the larger hearing on regulatory symmetry. Hennessy says the telephone company is moving too quickly on that score. Bell setting agenda "I think the problem right now is Bell is trying to set the agenda on IP telephony before anybody’s made any serious business decision to get in there, before we’ve even considered what are the interconnection implications of that," he asserts. "If they get to set the agenda on IP telephony before anybody’s even really baked their ideas, we may as well go back to the monopoly regulation, the rate of return regulation prior to when the commission decided that price caps were necessary because competition was on the horizon. It may be on the horizon, but it’s in another hemisphere." Hunter doesn’t see his company’s application in such a dire light."It’s to get a head start, to be honest. As you may know, there’s just an incredible confusion in the United States about what’s going to happen with Voice over IP and how it’s going to be treated. Is it going to be deemed to be a telecommunications service or not? And we’re saying that this is inevitable, that everyone is going to want to migrate to a Voice over IP platform in whole or in part and this is coming more quickly than a lot of people think and we’re saying let’s just get the rules established now so that everyone knows what their obligations are, whether it’s the cable guys, whether it’s us, whether it’s the CLECs, whether it’s the Vonage-type services." (The same day that Bell filed its application with the Canadian regulator, the Federal Communications Commission announced it will be holding a forum on VoIP issues next month. It also intends to issue a Notice of Public Rule Making on the migration of voice services to IP-based networks.) Hennessy thinks the current rules would suffice. He suspects Bell is playing a shell game with the CRTC. "Look, if we’re going to get into that market, you’ve got to make business decisions, you’ve got to set your thing up," he states. "We have to apply to be CLECs. We’re going to ask for some form of interconnection. But to foist interconnection regime on us because we’re contemplating whether or not this is a good business idea is basically the latest way one, to screw us, and two, to turn around, turn the commission’s attention away from going after the tele-phone companies’ current behaviour in the market." The Bell filing suggests there is another way for cablecos to leap into the telephony market without securing CLEC status. "While cable companies such as Rogers and Shaw don’t currently offer the triple play bundle, they could easily do so, even before they develop their own telephony services, by entering into arrangements with existing CLECs," the telco writes. "This could allow them to use existing bundling rules to gain a huge competitive advantage over the ILECs in providing bundled services to customers in MDUs and other targeted market segments." Hennessy disputes that allegation, saying Bell hasn’t been looking carefully at the marketplace if it thinks those types of alliances are likely.