Wednesday 22 February 2012

Deferral Account Update 22 Feb 12

The legal challenges to the Bell Deferral Account project appear to have come to an end. The procedure under which Rogers appealed the CRTC’s concerning Bell’s use of HSPA+ technology to provided broadband (high speed) Internet service using Deferral Account funds allowed the Governor-in-Council (GiC) a “silence” procedure. This meant that the GIC had a 12 month window from the date of the original CRTC decision under appeal to act. If the GiC did nothing, it effectively denied the Rogers petition. The GiC did nothing. This “pocket veto” in effect killed the appeal.

In a report to the CRTC, Bell indicated they were proceeding with the implementation of the Deferral Account project. Bell has completed 3 localities and plans on deploying the broadband services to the remaining 109 approved communities using the HSPA+ technology over the 2012 to 2014 timeframe.

Bell Canada expects to roll out broadband services to 25 communities in 2012, 41 communities in 2013, and to the remaining 43 in 2014. The company has started the construction work associated with 18 of these areas already.

Not surprisingly, the annual totals vary from the original 2008 submissions. Their last report did not include a list of locality crossed referenced to the year. Bell stated they expect to be able to provide more detail on their rollout plan in this year’s annual report which is due on 31 Mar 12. Bell already completed public consultations for sites in the SSM-Airport Deferral Account area and on the fringe of the Goulais Deferral Account area. There are also a few towers showing up in the North Sault area which I cannot cross reference to a public consultation. I am not aware of any overt activity in the Echo Bay and St. Joseph Island areas.

Bell provided the three localities identified as Deferral Account areas completed to date – Nakina (Greenstone) and Pass Lake in Ontario and Bury in Quebec – with DSL service. The remaining 109 will get the HSPA+ service. CRTC Decision 2010-805 approved a pricing plan that allows for 65 GB of data transfer for less than $50.00. This places the HSPA+ service at a price competitive with the DSL.

The bigger question is the technology. As HSPA+ is rolled out as part of the vendors’ regular broadband (high-speed) Internet package by Bell, Rogers and Tbaytel, network congestion and the resultant speed slow down have become major issues. One can hope that the Bell Deferral Account design which is based on a smaller cell density will overcome these network problems.

Another outstanding question is the procedure for users to gain access to the Deferral Account service at the rates quoted by Bell and approved in principle by the CRTC. It is clear from the Bell submissions, that a user must reside within the designated Deferral Account area to receive the preferred Deferral Account rate. What is less clear, is how the source of the signal received by the user, affects the rates. Radio waves are not restrained by the artificial Distribution Serving Area (DSA) boundaries that define the Deferral Account areas. There are ready users living within the defined Deferral Account DSAs using Bell data hubs but are not receiving the Deferral Account rates. Repeated enquires to Bell on this matter have been met with silence. At the moment I am not aware of any cell sites actually located within a Deferral Account DSA boundary. Based the public consultations held 2011 this situation will change early in 2012.

In a related matter, I cannot find any reference on the CRTC website pertaining to a Bell request for a drawdown of Deferral Account funds to support the broadband (high speed) Internet roll-out. Other vendors such as Telus, MTS and SaskTel have made submissions. When Bell does act, it will have to identify the sites supported by Deferral Account funds; logically user with these DSA areas will eligible for the Deferral Account rates. The proposed cell site locations which generated the SSM–Airport and Carpin Beach Rd public consultations were clearly defined as Deferral Account sites.