Bell Canada has responded to two strongly worded dissents in Telecom Decision 2004-20 by saying it’s willing to live with the commission’s decisions in several optical fibre service arrangements, but commissioners Barbara Cram and Stuart Langford have taken the telco to task on the basis of a misunderstanding. The CRTC handed down 2004-20 on March 23 setting out its reasons for decisions in the customer service arrangements (CSAs) in Telecom Orders 2003-482, 2003-483 and 2003-484. In those rulings, the commission approved some but denied other applications for customer service arrangements that were mostly related to the Villages branchés du Québec program. The provincial initiative was to wire up municipalities, school boards and other public institutions. In the course of bidding, first through Bell Nexxia and then through Bell Canada, the telco offered pricing to the province for dark fibre that was below the General Tariff rate. At issue is whether, when bidding, Bell should have used its real costs to set a price, or the General Tariff rate that competitors would have to pay if they were to try to lease dark fibre facilities from the incumbent. The CRTC sets out its reasoning for approving many of the deals partly by saying that "construction of certain networks…has been completed and that the networks are operational. The commission considers that denial of the CSAs…would lead to significant disruption of existing service, dislocation of complex equipment and facility configurations, at a significant cost and to the detriment of school boards and municipalities in the relevant areas." Further, the CRTC found that since Bell Canada was the only bidder on some of the CSAs, and that denying their application for approval at this stage would have left some municipalities and others without dark fibre service. While the commission found that some of the CSAs would have had to be denied on the basis that they were at lower cost than the General Tariff, the above circumstances led commissioners to let the CSAs stand, though in the future Bell and others will have to charge the General Tariff rate when creating bids. But, commissioners Cram and Langford took exception to the majority opinion. In her dissent, Cram writes: "With the advent of competition, the commission has undertaken 12 years in a continuing painstaking process of wringing out the cross subsidization between the various classes of ratepayers. This has involved increasing rates, most notably for residential users, and reducing costs of the telephone companies. For some, this has been a difficult process, however, the eventual goal of competition and the consequent reduction of prices, has justified the means. To step back from cost based rates and reintroduce hidden cross subsidization, as in this decision, is a retrograde and chilling step." Langford writes: "Bell Canada has broken the rules. It set tariffs for providing services to competitors that were higher than the prices it quoted when bidding to sell those same services to would-be customers. The actual numbers are protected by a confidentiality blanket but suffice it to say that there were two price lists, one for Bell Canada’s competitors and the other for its retail customers. Against this unfair competition advantage, the competition never stood a chance…In the long run, the future of a competitive marketplace has been dealt a significant setback and ILECs have been sent the unfortunate message that non-compliance pays." David Kidd, VP of regulatory law at Bell Canada, disagrees. He tells Network Letter that the decision will mean Bell has to charge General Tariff rates in the future, but that there was nothing "nefarious or underhanded" about the deals. He counters any notion that Bell was "trying to get away with something." He says Cram’s and Langford’s statements don’t take into account legitimate debate on the issue of how to charge customers. For example, Kidd notes, the commission approved a similarly lower than general tariff rate in an Alberta decision last year - Telecom Decision 2003-22.