Monday 17 June 2013

CRTC Chairman Indicates Future Area of Proceedings

As you are likely aware, there are two major broadband infrastructure projects underway in Sault Ste Marie.  Bell is installing its Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology under the marketing name Fibe and Shaw is installing literally hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city under the marketing name Shaw Go WiFi.  

At the moment, these new service offerings are “closed” networks in that you must sign up for service from either Bell or Shaw to gain access to the network infrastructure as a user.  This is unlike the existing wireline services such as DSL and cable which are “open” networks in that a third party network operator can purchase wholesale network capapcity and resell it to end users.

This closed network approach may be subject to change in the not too distant future. 

In his keynote speech at the recently concluded Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, the Chairman of the CRTC, Mr. Jean-Pierre Blais indicated that the CRTC would be conducting a number of reviews of telecom policy over the next few years. In particular “Another review will explore whether additional wholesale high-speed access services should be mandated, including fibre-to-the-premise facilities. We will hold a proceeding to determine whether competitors should have mandated access to these high-speed fibre networks—and, if so, when, where and at what cost.”  

This has all the potential to develop into a real cat fight as the vendors will likely fight tooth and nail to keep their networks closed.

Mr Blais also addressed the question of what broadband download speeds Canadians should expect.  The CRTC last indentified the target speed standards in 2011 as “…by the end of 2015, the CRTC expects all Canadians to have access to broadband speeds of at least 5 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. This is the minimum speed we believe Canadians should be able to receive.”  Good luck in attaining this goal in many parts of rural Ontario unless additional fibre optic backbone infrastructure is rolled out.

Mr. Blais added “It’s time to prepare to take another look at our basic service objective, something we will do in 2014-2015.”  He gave fair warning to the vendors by asking “Should broadband be considered a basic service for Canadians across the country?
That’s one of the key questions we will be asking when we start our review. We will also look at whether there should be changes to the subsidy regime and national contribution mechanism.”

If broadband is eventually classified as a “basic service“ then it will be considered the same as telephone and dial-up Internet connectivity which are currently classified as a basic services.

Mr. Blais continues to expand his growing reputation as a consumer centered Chairman.  His handling of the Wireless Code process and hearings was praise by both industry and consumers, an experience that must have felt strange to old time CRTC staffers who were often berated as industry insiders.

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