Cablecos suggest 5 Mbps broadband target for nation

Telecommunications carriers should set a non-binding goal of offering every Canadian household broadband service with a download speed of 5 megabits a second within the next five years, say the country’s biggest cable operators.

The three-speed plan brought to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing Monday also would promise offering broadband download speeds of up to 100 Mbps to 75 per cent of the country and 10 Mbps to 90 per cent of homes within the same time period.

Being able to get 5 Mbps would be a hundred times faster than the minimum high speed Internet service incumbent phone companies have to offer customers in the most distant parts of the country now.

Cities would get the 100 Mbps service – some already get 50 Mbps.

The plan would in essence replace the binding target incumbent phone companies now have of offering at least dialup Internet service to all customers, which is 56 kilobits per second.

The commission is looking into whether it should rewrite the binding obligation to service and basic services incumbent phone companies are required to offer customers.In particular, it has focused on whether it needs to ensure that Canadians in rural and outlying areas get access to the same Internet speeds as people do in cities.

The cableco plan was presented by Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc., Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc., Montreal’s Cogeco Cable and Montreal’s Quebecor Inc., which operates the Videotron cable network.

“All of these objectives we set think are realizable,” Dennis Beland, senior director of regulatory affairs for telecommunications at Quebecor Media, told the commission.

Satellite and wireless provider Barrett Xplore Inc. has told the commission its latest satellites will be able to cover all of the country next year with faster speeds than it offes now, Beland said, while mobile broadband wireless technologies from phone and cable companies such as HSPA and the upcoming deployment of LTE are also being extended to customers who can’t be reached by phone lines or cable.

Cable companies already offer at least 30 Mbps to three quarters of the country, he added. To boost that to 100 Mpbs would take pushing fibre optic lines deeper into their networks.

But the cablecos’ plan also comes with a couple of strings. The commission, which regulates telecommunications, would have to let the private sector alone to do all the work. The plan would be agreed upon by carriers and governments, not a fixed target set by CRTC. And only incumbent phone carriers in areas where there is no competition could have their networks subsidized.

That gave commission chairman Konrad von Finckenstein problems. Some very small communities or individuals could only be served by satellite, he noted, which often has an installation and startup cost of up to $700. That’s “a real major impediment,” he said, and asked why that cost shouldn’t be subsidized.

“You don’t want to anticipate a problem before it exists,” resisted Ken Engelhart, Rogers’ senior vice president of regulatory affairs. “Give the market five years to sort it out first.” If the commission thinks it’s a problem then, he said, it can act.”

There was also no support for the commission setting mandatory broadband targets from Telus Corp., the Vancouver-based incumbent phone company in Alberta and B.C., nor from a group of four independent Internet service providers.

The cost of satellite installation failed to move Michael Hennessy, Telus’ senior vice-president of regulatory affairs. If the CRTC does nothing “you will have 100 per cent [broadband] availability next year,” he said, because of all of working being done by the industry.

However, when pressed he conceded that if satellite is the only technology an area can use to get broadband and if the installation cost is a barrier to subscribers and installation subsidy should be looked at.

But at another point he said a barrier to adoption of broadband might not be access but a lack of understanding of its importance, or an inability to afford the service – or a computer to take advantage of it.

Earlier at the hearing Manitoba Telecom Services suggested the commission oversee a $7 billion fund that would see phone companies able to offer every household have access to high speed Internet with download speeds of up to 4 Mbps in 10 years. The money would come from expanding a rural broadband contribution fund.

However, the cablecos dismissed the plan, saying it would cause unacceptable “price distortions and inefficiencies.”

The ISPs – Toronto-based Accelerated Connections Inc., Vancouver-based Radiant Communications Company, Whitehorse-based SSI Micro Ltd. and Chatham, Ont.-based and TekSavvy Solutions Inc., said any levy added to internet providers could put them out of business.

As for the basic services obligations, the cablecos called for loosening the commission’s powers and letting competition take its course. As soon as a competitor enters a phone market the commission should declare it unregulated, the cablecos say. Under the current rules an exchange can be forborne from regulation when there’s two residential or one business competitor capable of serving 75 per cent of those with phone lines.

The basic services and obligation to serve requirements that incumbent phone companies have to follow – which is why they are eligible for subsidies – should come off unregulated in these exchanges, the cablecos add.


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