City blames carrier for network delay

Frank Mayhood, IT manager for the City of Kamloops, B.C., describes the municipality as a place of junctions – the intersection of two rivers, the North and South Thompson, as well two highways, the Yellowhead and the Trans Canada.

But in its effort to build a fibre-optic metro-area network (MAN), Kamloops seems more of a junction between a rock and a hard place: on one hand the City wants improved network connectivity; on the other, it says service provider Telus Corp. is impeding development of the requisite infrastructure.

Kamloops has applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for a remedy. In a document for the Commission, the City accuses Telus of requiring “unnecessary and unjustified…fees” before the network can be built.

Kamloops got the idea to build a metropolitan fibre-optic network circa 2000. Mayhood said the backbone would foster high-speed Internet connectivity, advanced computer-telephony applications and generally aid the region’s economic prospects. “We need to become a junction city on the Internet.”

Kamloops amassed nearly $750,000 to undertake the network. But before it could build, the City required permission from Telus to gain access to the carrier’s support structures – the underground conduits that hold fibre-optic cables. Mayhood said Kamloops spent months discussing with Telus the work required to see the network completed.

When Telus responded with a price for prepping the support structures, however, the City was shocked. The “make-ready” fees were in the $800,000 range – steep enough to put the project in jeopardy, Mayhood said. “That doubled our estimate for the construction of the whole network – kind of blew the business case out of the water.”

Telus said the make-ready fees included the installation of “subducts” that organize fibre-optic cables, and keep the fibre from being crushed by copper cables. Telus also said subducts make it easier to perform infrastructure maintenance.

Kamloops said the carrier is out of date. “We don’t believe that subducting is required engineering-wise.…It’s an old fiction that needs to be knocked down,” Mayhood said, pointing out that 60 per cent of the make-ready costs were related to subducting.

“In the ’80s, people were worried about fibre-optic cables being crushed by copper cables. Nobody’s going to install copper cables anymore. Also, the [fibre-optic cable] that’s installed has not experienced that problem. It’s a little more durable.”

But in a document for the CRTC, Telus argued that subducting reduces the cost of placing cable and cuts down on the amount of time and effort required for maintenance work. And contrary to the City’s contention that subducting is outmoded, Telus said the procedure is “becoming the recommended and growing industry practice for maximizing conduit capacity.”

Charlene Schneider, Telus’s Edmonton-based manager, access policy, said the carrier was “quite taken aback” to receive the Kamloops CRTC application.

“We were very surprised, considering there are different remedies or avenues that they could have taken, simply by coming and talking to us,” she said, referring to the carrier’s dispute resolution program, which is supposed to help fix problems like this before they reach the Commission.

Mayhood said the City negotiated with Telus for four months before taking its complaint to the government, adding that Kamloops even warned the carrier’s sales rep that it would do so. “What more do they want from us?”

Kamloops said the battle over make-ready fees has delayed the project. But Telus countered that if anyone is to blame for delays it’s Kamloops, describing how the City was still working on technical aspects as late as March 2003. As well, Telus said it worked diligently to decrease the make-ready costs to about $500,000, some $250,000 less than the original price. “Telus has not delayed this project,” the company said.

No matter which party’s at fault, one network stakeholder is anxious to see the battle resolved. Gregg Ferrie, manager of IT for B.C. school district 73, serving Kamloops and environs, said a fibre-optic backbone would help education in the area.

“It would improve activity in over three quarters of our sites,” Ferrie said. “It would be a huge boost for us. We could do server consolidation, IP telephony, video conferencing.”

Unfortunately for the school district, Mayhood said the network is on hold for the time being – and it could remain so for a while longer. “It can take…as little as a month or it might take six months to get the CRTC to the point where they’re willing to order the incumbent carrier to do something they don’t want to do.”

Schneider from Telus said Kamloops had until June 16 to reply to the carrier’s document filed with the CRTC.

“At that point the Commission does their thing,” she said, explaining that the CRTC could request more information, send the combatants into a dispute resolution program or simply hand down a decision.

Mayhood said a decision in the City’s favour is a decision in support of Kamloops’ future. “I think the objective of getting this shared, publicly owned infrastructure…is a good one. I’d hate to lose that on the basis of a few hundred-thousand dollars.”