The recent usage based billing (UBB) scandal outraged Canadians. The Canadian Ratio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled that Bell Canada could now charge its resellers according to their usage rather than only being able to charge them a flat fee. However, Canadians were outraged for the wrong reason. Rather than being outraged that a company obtained permission to charge its resellers as it desired, Canadians should have been outraged that permission was needed.
At the foundation of a free and prosperous society lie individual rights and cardinal amongst these are property rights: the right to acquire, use and dispose of one's property according to one's judgement. Time and time again, history has shown us that the more a society respects individual rights, the more prosperous this society becomes. Consider the dramatic increase in the standard of living brought by the industrial revolution, made possible only by the discovery and enshrinement of individual rights.
Despite the veneer of being privately operated, the Canadian telecommunications industry is operated in every essential way by the CRTC. To clarify the extent of the CRTC's control over the industry, let's consider the following story. Imagine that you want to start a limo company. You research the relevant laws and discover that you need to apply to your municipal transportation commission for an operating licence as well as a licence to acquire a limo. You receive your licences and through countless months of hard work, you've established a very successful limo company. Due to your success, the commission decides that you are to lease your limos to whoever wants to drive them at a "fair price" and the commission is ready to enforce this by force. "That's not fair!" you think to yourself, so you decide to raise your prices to make up for your losses. There's a catch: you need to apply to the commission for permission to do so. They may approve the increase, but if they ever deem, using whichever means they want, that your prices are unjust, you'll be charged with discrimination. Since you're a limo company, the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to you, it's up to you to prove that you're innocent. Should you fail, you'll face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Should you ever forget to renew your licence, you'll be fined a million dollars for every day you operated without it. Despite all of these hardships, you keep your business afloat. Surely things can't get much worse, can they? The commission just ruled that there's too much competition in the South end of town and they've ordered you to cease providing your services there. This is despite the fact that they ordered you to start offering your services there last year.
As ludicrous as the transportation commission's powers sound, they are all powers the federal government granted the CRTC in the Telecommunications Act and they are all violations of individual rights.
Throughout the UBB scandal, Canadians damned Bell Canada as anti-competitive, believing that raising the prices "small competitors" paid to use Bell's equipment was meant to drive them out of business. Regardless of Bell's intentions, the fact is that Bell owns its equipment and that, morally, it can do as it pleases with it. Reselling Bell's Internet services is not a right and our government shouldn't treat it as one. If a reseller can't afford to lease Bell's equipment, it can either go out of business or find someone else to resell from. Many Canadians argued that there were no alternative telcos to switch to and begged the CRTC for more regulations against the telecommunications industry. However, their "solution" was precisely the cause of the problem. These regulations dictate to the property owners—the telcos—how they may use their property, an obvious violation of their property rights. The Canadian telecommunications industry is closed to international competition and Canadian newcomers face countless regulatory hurdles. Even if the market was open to all, who would want to subject themselves to the CRTC's arbitrary power? To prosper, all must free to act according to their own judgement, not some bureaucrats'. Only laissez-faire capitalism permits this freedom to all, businesses and consumers alike, and only under laissez-faire are individual rights protected. The solution to the UBB scandal is not more regulations, it's deregulating the telecommunications industry and abolishing the CRTC.
The above op-ed was my first op-ed as an assignment for ARI's Objectivist Academic Center. I am not a lawyer, so don't try to construe the above as legal advice.