Bell Aliant Regional Communications LP plans to offer fibre optic connectivity to 70,000 homes and businesses in Fredericton and Saint John, New Brunswick, but is not saying what data transfer rates will be available.

This is “great news for small businesses that may not have access to all the infrastructure” that larger businesses might have, said Amit Kaminer, an analyst with the Montreal-based SeaBoard Group.

“It’s great news to see one of the Canadian telcos actually picking up the fibre to the home flag and pushing all the way through.” he said.

Aliant announced this week by the middle of next year, it will have fibre to the home available to Fredericton and Saint John. It already has fibre to the node service available to 240,000 customers, meaning those users would rely on copper cabling for the last mile.

The fibre to the home service, dubbed FibreOp, will entail aerial cabling to optical network terminals on the exterior of customers’ buildings and will cost Aliant $60 million. The province is contributing $1 million on condition that $3 million worth of contracts be offered to local firms.

“It’s an aerial deployment, so it’s putting New Brunswick in the in forefront of technology,” Kaminer said. “It’s a torpedo launch at their competitors.”

It wasn’t clear how or if Aliant would provide cabling from customers’ optical network terminals to their modems or whether customers would need to do this work themselves.

“Just like with any other service, the customer would call us and ask for installation and we would need to do some work outside to connect the service to their home,” said Aliant spokesperson Isabelle Robinson. “There’s services or equipment they would have to have within their home, their modem, or their set top box for their television service.”

The company has yet to announce pricing or service packages, but it will include television and high-speed Internet, Aliant spokesperson Isabelle Robinson said.

The company would not say what data transfer rates will be available. It has only said it will deliver a signal of more than one gigabit per second to a “cluster of homes” and each customer will have a “dedicated portion” of the signal.

“I imagine this will bolster their IPTV offering and overall Internet speeds,” Kaminer said. “It will all depend on the price points, but if the price point is competitive then it’s great news for Canada. Toronto and Vancouver waiting for announcements. In Montreal they’re covered. Videotron is aggressive on those download speeds but in Toronto and Vancouver we haven’t seen those kind of speeds that a next generation platform can provide.”

Bell Canada has 2.4 million homes covered by its fibre to the node network, and plans to have five million covered by 2012, the company said in its annual report. But the company has complained federal regulations are discouraging it from investing in fibre.

In March, BCE Inc. asked the federal Cabinet to over-rule a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that requires incumbent local exchange carriers to provide to competitors aggregated asymmetric digital subscriber line services at the same speeds available to the incumbents’ retail customers.

 

That ruling, Telecom Order 2008-117 , was issued in December. Bell interpreted this to pertain to purely copper services, so in March, the CRTC issued Telecom Order 2009-111. That order stated: “The Commission’s reference to ‘copper facilities’ in paragraph 22 of Telecom Decision 2008-117 means that to the extent that the service is provided over a path that includes copper facilities, the service is subject to the requirements of the decision.”

BCE appealed to Cabinet because, in effect, the carrier said this forces incumbents to provide regulated access to fibre to the node. As a result, Bell is “re-evaluating” its plans to install fibre to the node outside Toronto and Montreal.

This was a hot issue at the recent Canadian Telecom Summit. At the “regulatory blockbuster session,” Bell Canada’s senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs, Mirko Babic, said regulation would make it less economical for the carrier to offer fibre in small to mid-sized communities.

 
“After building from scratch, it’s completely inappropriate to give newcomers any access they want, at subsidized, low, mandated rates,” he said.  “This is tantamount to saying, ‘heads, competitors win, and tails, facilities-based ISPs lose.’”

The CRTC has scheduled public hearings related to this issue Nov. 16 near Ottawa.

Robinson said the CRTC rulings should not affect its FiberOP service, because this is fibre to the home, rather than fibre to the node, which would use copper as a last mile.