The Canadian head of an Internet registrar and U.S. wireless operator says independent ISPs should build infrastructure themselves rather than rely on Ottawa

Internet access here terrible, conference told

 Canada’s independent Internet providers shouldn’t wait for the federal government or the CRTC to clear the way to next-generation broadband networks, a conference has been told. Instead they should start doing it themselves.

Elliot Noss, CEO of Toronto-based Internet registrar and Tucows Inc., told the Canadian ISP Summit on Monday that Canadians need access to faster networks than facilities-based incumbent carriers like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp. are providing.

So ISPs should get into the infrastructure business themselves, he said, starting with building fibre optic networks in small communities or neighbourhoods.

Usually ISPs buy Internet access wholesale from incumbent carriers, who bear the expense of building cable, copper or fibre networks. But Noss (pictured) said Canadian ISPs should follow the lead of small American providers, who are taking advantage of federal money and help from municipalities who want to more Internet competition and faster speeds.

“If you’re the first [in an area] you’ll learn how to do it,” he said. Then ISPs will be able to take that knowledge to other markets.

During the speech he also lashed out at the Canadian and U.S. governments for policies that encourage incumbent carriers to invest as little money as they can get away with in their networks, resulting in relatively slow Internet speeds compared to other countries.

“Canada has no glimmers of hope going forward,” he added, because unlike most countries we don’t have a “grand national broadband plan.”

(The strategy has been long promised by Industry Ministers Tony Clement and Christian Paradis.)

As a result, Noss said, “Internet access in Canada is in terrible shape.”

Things aren’t much better in the U.S., he said, but there a fledgling municipal broadband industry is shaking things up.

He noted that the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., with the help of municipal financing, offers residents service with download speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

Canadian ISPs have tried going it alone. Vianet Internet Solutions, based in Sudbury, Ont., is just finishing a fibre optic network in the town of Chapleau, some 350 km. away, after buying the local cable company.

Now it offers 30 Mbps Internet, plus TV and local phone service for $99.99 a month. “We look for a municipal government and a local utility that wants to co-operate,” Brian McCullagh, Vianet’s director of business development said in an interview during the conference.

But two national ISPs cast doubt on the idea. Melvin Cohen, president of Distributel, which offers cable or DSL service in a number of provinces, said in an interview that building fibre networks “is a very different kind of business” than the one he’s built.

Marc Gaudraut, CEO of Teksavvy Solutions, pointed out his company built and operates a fixed wireless network in Chatham, Ont., in addition to offering cable and DSL service across the country.

But, he added, to build infrastructure in large towns or cities would require “solid margins” and regulatory certainty, which isn’t the case now.

In an interview Noos, said “the best hope for disruptive change” in Internet access has to come from small ISPs.

What Washington has done is set aside US$4.7 billion to fund infrastructure projects in the U.S. as part of its economic recovery plan, he said, because it believes Internet infrastructure is important.

(In Canada the Harper government set aside $225 million.)

Noss called on governments at all levels to help small ISPs get out from under the thumb of incumbent carriers by making it easier for them to build infrastructure on their own. That includes helping ISPs get access to physical infrastructure for their networks, such as municipal conduits and street light poles.

He also said Ottawa’s digital strategy should have clear, enforceable goals for Internet speeds.
 
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The ISP Summit is an annual conference sponsored by the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), which represents many of the country’s independent ISPs.

On the agenda are a range of issues for helping providers run their businesses better including how to make networks ready for IPv6, network security, valuating businesses for acquisition or sale and customer service.

During a dinner speech late Monday, CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said that a planned review of how the regulator sets wholesale prices ISPs have to pay incumbent carriers for various services may be quite detailed.

The review, to be done either next year or in 2014, may look at whether the cost-based model is always the best, whether different pricing can be set for different classes of service providers and whether procedural changes would help things.

The conference ends Tuesday.

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