Swedish broadband ownership props Canadian counterparts

When it comes to broadband, Sweden gives a whole new meaning tothe expression “taking ownership.”

For in that country broadband users are also its owners.

It’s like assuming a mortgage, says Bill St. Arnaud, seniordirector for advanced networks at Ottawa-based Canarie Inc.”[Swedish] homeowners can purchase last mile infrastructure for anequivalent of US$20 a month.”

Canarie is a non-profit organization that promotes advancedInternet development in Canada. It seeks to foster widespreadadoption of faster, more efficient networks, as well as innovativeproducts, applications and services to run on these networks.

That’s quite a daunting goal, considering how far behind manyCanadian cities are when it comes to hi-tech infrastructure andservices. WiFi services in Toronto are currently among the mostexpensive in the world, St. Arnaud says, adding that we would dobetter if we took a page from the Swedes.

The telecom strategy in Sweden, he says, uncouplesinfrastructure from service. “The State provides theinfrastructure, [while] each community develops local solutions to[meet] their specific needs.”

The Canarie exec likened it to the difference between renting anapartment and owning a house. “With users owning broadband andrenting it out they can put in all sorts of value-added functions.”He contrasted that with the situation in a Canadian city likeToronto, which probably has the most expensive WiFi in theworld.

St. Arnaud said Toronto Hydro Telecom, which provides WiFicoverage in the city, is overpricing the service. “It’s not thatwhat we’re doing in Toronto is wrong, but Toronto Hydro Telecom hasmade it extremely expensive to obtain the service.”

Toronto Hydro Telecom charges $12 per metre, per month whileMontreal collects only $2 and the U.S. charges 50 cents, henoted.

And in Sweden the government is really willing to put its moneywhere its fibre is. The Swedish government has set aside US$20billion for a “dark fibre” network. The funding pool will be usedto connect main communities to neighbouring communities forming agrid across the country. St. Arnaud said Sweden’s system of statetax incentives encourages each community to develop their ownsystems to connect businesses, residents and institutions.

The national government advises local governments on how thefibre networks should be built to fit the national ITstructure.

“The cities own the conduits and they can lease it to companies,which then provide specific services the community needs.” This andcompetition among bidding services will bring down the cost ofnetworking said St. Arnaud.

While competitive forces in urban centres such as Toronto andMontreal may help to bring down the cost of high-speed connections,similar market forces are unsustainable in widely dispersed remoteareas, according to another panelist. “
The result is a patchy and uneven service between communities,”said Diana Milenovic, senior vice-president of marketing andmobility at SaskTel the dominant telecom company in Regina, Sask.SaskTel currently provides connectivity to some 300 ruralcommunities in Saskatchewan.

Milenovic said it’s very hard for some communities to depend onlocal capital and technology skills to develop and maintainnetworks. “One community is in quite a bind now because the localtech guru has decided to move.”

At least one expert believes that barriers to communitynetworking in Canada are now lower.

“The technology has become less expensive here,” said StefanDubowski, editor of Decima’s Telemanagement, a journal dedicated toCanadian business communications technology.

He said whereas [previously] the business proposition forbuilding a network in a remote area was not there, today thesituation is different.

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