At the beginning of this week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began a nine-day hearing about how they should go about regulating the country’s Internet market as next-generation services become available.
The main focus of the hearing in Gatineau, Quebec will be on whether or not “alternative” Internet service providers (ISPs) should have mandated access to fibre-optic technology. At the moment, large incumbent telephone and cable companies are the ones with the means to develop fibre networks, and the main issue is that if alternative ISPs don’t have access to this technology, competition in the market will likely be more one-sided than it already is.
Up until the 1990s, the big guys had complete control over the Internet market. Then the CRTC mandated wholesale access to independent ISPs. Today, there are more than 500 ISPs in Canada, but the alternative services only saw 8% of the revenue from residential customers in 2013. The top five providers (Bell Canada, Rogers, Quebecor, Shaw, and Telus) saw 75% of the revenue.
“The whole debate about fibre to the home really boils down to a debate about the obligations of the incumbent telephone and cable companies to make wholesale services available to smaller competitors and enable them to remain competitive,” said Jean-François Léger, counsel to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, to the Globe and Mail. “Our take is that the interests of consumers are best served by a dynamic, contested marketplace.”
The large incumbent companies have stated that mandating wholesale access to independent ISPs will be a disincentive to investors, potentially damaging the country’s economy. They believe that since fibre is a new type of infrastructure, it should be exempt from mandatory access, at least until more established networks are developed. The problem with this is that while the top five are providing fibre connectivity, the smaller providers will fall behind not being capable of keeping up with the higher speeds. With less competition, consumers will be forced to pay significantly more if they want the fastest possible Internet connection.
If the CRTC decides that the incumbent telephone and cable companies don’t need to allow access to their next-generation services, then large parts of the country will be left behind. The people of Southwestern Ontario who are left unserviced by major providers will continue to be overlooked as fibre is developed in locations that are most profitable.
The SWIFT Project is based on open access fibre-connectivity because competition equals fair prices for consumers, and when it comes to broadband connectivity, everyone deserves affordable and high-speed access.