"There's only a certain amount of real estate," says Jamie Bogue of wireless spectrum.

Unfair use of spectrum across the spectrum: local ISP

Jamie Bogue says a recent CRTC ruling about rural internet speeds needs to allow small internet service providers more spectrum.

Spectrum is like invisible highways floating above our heads. These highways are radio frequencies telecommunication companies use to provide things like cell service and wireless internet.

“There’s only a certain amount of real estate and it’s mainly owned by Bell, Rogers and TELUS,” says Bogue, sales manager with IGS Hawkesbury.

The ruling establishes a $750-million fund over five years to bring broadband internet to rural Canadians, which Bogue says is a “drop in the bucket,” but will also mainly be accessed by the big telecom players like Bell, Rogers and TELUS.

The combination of the new fund and having access to the vast majority of the spectrum means those large telcos could overbuild local ISPs in rural areas. Bogue says the ruling acknowledges this possibility but doesn’t have a specific solution.

Large telcos have been accused in the past of “hoarding” spectrum and not doing anything with it. So some smaller ISPs have banded together under the Canadian Association of Wireless Internet Service Providers (CanWISP) and want to lobby the government to give them access to that unused spectrum.

ADSL vs wireless

Spectrum relates mainly to the wireless side of internet access. The ruling says broadband internet is now considered a “basic service” and should be guaranteed to all Canadians. It also set out 50 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 10Mbps upload speeds as minimum targets. For comparison, streaming Netflix in high definition only uses 5Mbps.

The CRTC currently estimates 82 per cent of Canadians already have access to 50/10, and want to increase that to 90 per cent by 2021. The remaining 10 per cent, says the ruling, should have access within 15 years.

But these are only targets, and wireless won’t be the way to do it. 

A single optic fibre (yellow wire) can carry 1GB of information either way at the same time.

“We just can’t use the spectrum efficiently enough yet,” says Bogue. He says those speeds will mainly be reached through ADSL connections, which rely on underground fibre and copper wires. 

IGS’s fastest ADSL plan does currently offer 50/10 speeds, while its fastest LTE wireless network offers speeds of up to 15Mbps download and 1Mbps upload.

“If you were to talk to me two years ago, I thought wireless was going to take over everything,” says Larry Bogue, Jamie’s father and owner of IGS. “But now there’s not enough spectrum in the air.”

He predicts our relationship with wireless will change: our devices will all be wireless, but connectivity itself will rely more on fibre backbones that will snake their way underground towards more and more nodes set up in rural areas. Those nodes will then redistribute the connection in smaller batches to specific devices.

Looking down the line, says Jamie, wireless—and spectrum—will be most important for the hard-to-build areas like the North.

Pricing

The ruling did not make any regulations for pricing.

“The industry is going that way whether they put the money in or not,” says Jamie Bogue of the target speeds. “I don’t see the cost per package going down,” he adds, “I see the speed per package going up.”

Long term prices are more unpredictable, he says, since content delivery, like television, will likely all be through the internet.

“If our lobbying efforts are not successful and they let all the big guys use the spectrum they have to overbuild us,” he says, “that’s going to very much negatively impact pricing.”


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