Open access key to better Internet in Canadian cities: panel

Canada needs to adopt an open access infrastructure model if it’s going to provide Internet service competitive with the bandwidth and prices offered elsewhere in the world, a panel of networking experts agreed at today’s CANARIE Summit in Toronto.

The ageing copper infrastructure that’s found in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal was bemoaned by panelists. While some fibre line has been laid by incumbent carriers in Canada, the critical “last mile” of fibre connecting offices and residences to that high-bandwidth infrastructure is still a missing part of the picture.

Mathieu Lemay, the president and CEO of network software maker Inocybe Technologies of Gatineau, Que., pointed to Sweden as an example of implementing an open access model 10 years ago. Canada could learn and potentially leap frog their networks with our own open access approach. According to, Sweden ranks second place on broadband penetration and fourth overall on speed measures. Its open access policies can be traced back to local loop unbundling in 2001, allowing incumbents from neighbouring countries to enter Sweden and buy out smaller competitors.

“We need to have proper fabric solutions that allow service providers to bring their own management tools,” Lemay said. “In order to solve our digital divide and get the rural and metropolitan areas connected we need to get government incentives along with the open access infrastructure operated by public private partnerships.”

Ritch Dusome, the executive director of the Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks (CENGN) agrees infrastructure could stand an upgrade in many Canadian cities. He points to his own home in Ottawa, where he can only get 5 Mbps DSL service from the copper lines in the ground.

“Without a change in infrastructure we’re never going to be competitive,” he says.

CENGN has received $11.7 million in funding from the federal government with a mandate to make Canada a leader in information and communications technologies (ICT). It is bringing together partners in the ICT sector and provides a facility for validating advanced products, applications, and services.

Dusome says the list of partners will be unveiled Nov. 6. “They do compete on a Canadian and international basis,” he says. “They were mature enough to come into this consortium to make sure R&D is alive and well in Canada.”

Pasquale Riciardi, the director and acting chief technology officer at Fonex Data Systems Inc., also griped about the quality of Internet services in his hometown. While progress has been made to provide good broadband access to certain rural regions of Quebec, as a resident on Montreal’s island, he is still stuck with a choice between either cable or DSL.

He’s more skeptical about industry players working together to improve the situation.

“I know there’s a lot of talk in the market about cooperation, but the reality is that the startups in the market are still encountering incumbents that want to maintain their position.”

Ian MacDonald is the co-founder of one such startup, Dotto-One, offering fibre-to-the-door Internet service in Toronto. While panelists complained that no one was laying down new fibre in cities, MacDonald shook his head, because that’s exactly what he says his company is doing. So far he’s connected a few residential apartment buildings in the central part of the city.

“Customers that are signing up for our service now are saying their Netflix stutters any time after 7:00,” he says. “I can offer them 40 Mbps and they think that’s the moon… the average consumer doesn’t know what they’re missing.”

Open access would be a boon for his business and other carriers in the Greater Toronto Area, he says. It’s the next-best thing to having owned infrastructure, and building that is a capital intensive business.

CANARIE is a high speed backbone that connects a number of provincial research networks across the country.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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