Independent research company BuddleComm has released a new report (sadly it’s expensive; if I were you I’d just read Phillip Dampier’s summary here) that looks at the best ways to connect everyone to the Internet. It’s key finding: there’s just no substitute for robust networks managed by independent players. But what does any of that mean?
To answer that, I’ll start with another question: Who controls the networks and sells access to Internet service providers?
The disappointing answer, here in Canada, is Big Telecom.
That’s right: the giant companies that provide service to about 90% of Canadians are the same ones selling wholesale network access to other providers.
“How is that fair?” you might wonder. Well, it’s mostly not.
It’s this ridiculous arrangement that allowed big telecom company Bell to impose a punitive usage-based billing model on its independent competitors—a move that sparked outrage in the half-a-million Canadians who signed the StopTheMeter.ca petition—and to have more autonomy overall when it comes to pricing. It’s also what, prior to some much-needed CRTC intervention, allowed Big Telecom to offer better Internet speeds than the independent providers stuck under their thumbs.
BuddleComm’s report clearly recommends something different: separation between Internet service providers and network access providers – something that could be done here in Canada by a means known formally as “structural separation”.
This is essentially the process of large incumbent telecom companies splitting off management of network infrastructure into a separate operation. That way Big Telecom is just in the business of serving their customers, while networks are managed in a way that gives equal access to incumbents and their independent competitors.
Structural separation means authentic choice – not just the false choice of a bunch of Big Telecom-controlled options.
And Canada wouldn’t exactly be the first country doing it: As BuddleComm notes, “the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and others are already moving in that direction, setting up broadband authorities to build fiber infrastructure dismissed as too expensive or unnecessary by commercial providers who answer first to financial markets, shareholders, and private banks.”
But as OpenMedia.ca's David Christopher writes:
"Canadians, by contrast, are still stuck with an old-fashioned, high-cost system in which monopolistic Big Telecom conglomerates decide whether, and at what cost, their competitors are allowed access to Canada’s wireless networks. This is a bit like giving FedEx (for example) the power to decide whether UPS and DHL get access to Canada’s roads and highways – it’s no wonder we have such high prices when incumbents have such a stranglehold over our communications infrastructure."
In short, it’s time Canadian policymakers get with the picture. Structural separation would go a long way to ensuring Canadians get the robust networks we need, accessed from whichever providers we choose.
The future of Internet service will be structurally separated – will Canada be a part of it?