CRTC rules that big Internet providers must open fibre networks to competitors

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says the move should foster greater competition in the broadband Internet market

GATINEAU, Q.C. – Canada’s communications regulator is forcing the country’s big Internet service providers to offer competitors access to their fibre optic networks.

The new requirement will give smaller Internet service providers, or ISPs, access to much higher speed networks.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says the move should also foster greater competition in the broadband Internet market.

“Large incumbent companies will now have to make their fibre facilities available to their competitors,” the CRTC said in a decision released Wednesday. “This measure will ensure that Canadians have more choice for high-speed Internet services.”

The big telecom companies, including Bell, Rogers (which owns Maclean’s), Telus and Shaw, have so far made fibre optic services available to about three million homes across the country.

But they have limited access by smaller ISPs to their slower networks, through cable or copper wire systems.

During hearings into Canada’s wholesale wireline services conducted last fall, the big players warned that allowing competitors access to their fibre optic networks would deter investments in equipment needed to deliver better service and faster speeds to Canadian homes and businesses.

The CRTC says it’s also moving to a so-called disaggregated model of providing high-speed access, which will require smaller ISPs to invest in equipment to access networks in different locations.

But officials say that could actually reduce costs for independent ISPs, which currently access the larger networks through trunk locations.

The changes are to be phased in, starting in Ontario and Quebec.

There are more than 500 independent ISPs operating in Canada, including Distributel, Teksavvy and Primus.

Currently, the big telcos are mandated to offer competitors access to their networks on an “aggregated” basis, which gives them access through just one location in each province.

Moving to disaggregated means independent ISPs can access broadband networks locally, through multiple interfaces, and will have the option of building their own provincial networks or paying to piggy-back on other providers.

Small players can then branch out and provide other services, such as home phone services, rather than only Internet. Officials say that should lead to more stability within the independent ISP marketplace.

The CRTC said it’s also maintaining the regulation of pricing for network access, which allows the big firms to recover the cost of providing network access, and to charge a mark-up that has typically ranged from 30 to 40 per cent, depending on the provider.

The mark-up for access to fibre optic networks is expected to be determined by late next year.

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