Why municipalities should build their own broadband infrastructure

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With the Internet of Things upon us, the government of Canada has launched a review of the broadcasting and telecommunications legislation. The government is reviewing with specific issues in mind, including content creation, net neutrality, cultural diversity, and promoting competition.

A refreshed framework is definitely required, and a couple of the most pressing issues in our opinion is the concept of competition and universal access.

First of all, this is what the government states about its review process with regards to competition:

“A key Government priority is promoting competition within all sectors of the Canadian economy to ensure growth and continued economic development. Dynamic competition is important for a modern communications landscape that produces innovation, choice, and affordable prices for Canadians. The Telecommunications Act gives the CRTC certain tools to promote competition and its associated benefits. Relevant policy objectives include affordability of high-quality services and responding to the economic and social requirements of users. The objectives also include a provision to promote reliance on market forces, an important consideration in the early 1990s monopoly environment.”

And when it comes to universal access, the government says:

“A related issue is access to passive infrastructure such as poles, ducts, and rights-of-way for deploying telecommunications infrastructure. Inefficient access can dramatically increase the cost of deployment or prevent it altogether. This importance is expected to grow with developments in 5G wireless, small cells that have equipment distributed in a much greater variety of locations and on non-traditional structures, and increasing demand for fibre optics. However, responsibilities over access to passive infrastructure are currently shared across multiple bodies and levels of government, presenting challenges for efficient and effective deployment.”

What the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) are trying do is finesse this through so municipalities are obligated to allow attachment by TSPs to municipal infrastructure. The new Chair of the CRTC, Ian Scott, a former Telus executive, many see as complicit with the big three incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECS), who control wireline and wireless access in Canada, is trying to make it so.

If successful, the big three will effectively roadblock all other providers by monopolizing the available attachment space in municipalities. Their aggressive behaviour to secure this space is in full swing. Because these are closed networks, TSPs are lobbying the CRTC based on cost recovery and stifling innovation arguments to prevent third parties from gaining access just like they did over FTTP.

Even if by some fluke the CRTC actually decides against them and attempts to regulate this access, the ILECs have a track record of successfully thwarting the rules. This will effectively ensure as IoT comes on stream and becomes a necessity to enable the smart municipality, every community will have to come to the TSPs to get connectivity, applications and data.

This will put the TSP in between the municipalities and their smart utilities, smart transportation and smart building systems. CPC is advocating municipalities to develop a strategy for carrier neutrality and open access that is entrenched in the official plan so it cannot be circumvented, including access to duct infrastructure, street lights and rights of way.

Progressive municipalities will build their own broadband infrastructure for their own connectivity and for lease to others in an open access system to support open data. They will build meshed WiFi and fibre-optic municipal networks that interoperates with LTE/5G to ensure the municipality has the freedom to deploy IoT to meet the needs of their communities without having to go hat-in-hand and hand-in-wallet to the TSPs.

Campbell Patterson