Cities don’t want to split cost of wires buried by tele­coms

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FP - ejack­son@na­tion­al­ Twit­­ly­jack­son EMILY JACK­SON

Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties ar­gue that tax­pay­ers shouldn’t have to split the bill for lo­ca­tion data be­fore telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions car­ri­ers build un­der­ground fa­cil­i­ties on city rights-of-way.

The Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the City of Hamil­ton and the City of Cal­gary asked the fed­eral tele­com reg­u­la­tor to re­vise a de­ci­sion that forces mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pay half the cost if they want to de­ter­mine the el­e­va­tion of a site where a tele­com com­pany wants to lo­cate equip­ment. The cities want the car­ri­ers to pay in full, ex­press­ing con­cern about the shift in cost from the pri­vate sec­tor to the pub­lic.

In a joint ap­pli­ca­tion filed last week with the Cana­dian Ra­diotele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, the cities said the CRTC’s de­ci­sion was un­work­able and “calls into ques­tion the decades-old cor­ner­stone of all mu­nic­i­pal ac­cess agree­ments: cost-neu­tral­ity for the mu­nic­i­pal tax­payer.”

While this de­ci­sion stemmed from a nar­row dis­pute be­tween Hamil­ton and BCE Inc., the cities ex­pressed worry it could cause wider re­la­tion­ship trou­bles be­tween car­ri­ers and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

“After a pe­riod of rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity in mu­nic­i­pal-car­rier re­la­tions, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across this coun­try are now reg­u­larly be­ing forced to re-ar­gue, and re-lit­i­gate, is­sues that were pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered set­tled by the com­mis­sion decades ago,” the cities stated.

“In this light the de­fault cost­ing al­lo­ca­tion in (the de­ci­sion) is par­tic­u­larly wor­ri­some.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and car­ri­ers is crit­i­cal to Cana­di­ans who in­creas­ingly rely on broad­band ser­vices, as car­ri­ers of­ten need city land to build net­work in­fra­struc­ture. These re­la­tion­ships vary across the coun­try de­pend­ing on lo­cal play­ers, but the rules govern­ing them are key to avoid lengthy dis­putes over ev­ery new tower, an­tenna or un­der­ground fa­cil­ity.

This par­tic­u­lar dis­pute cen­tred on el­e­va­tion data, which gives cities a three-di­men­sional look at a site in­stead of two-di­men­sional. Cities ar­gued such data is nec­es­sary for proper plan­ning as un­der­ground rights-of-way be­come more crowded with in­fra­struc­ture.

“Some­times the ground be­neath our cities is con­gested and con­tains over­lap­ping fa­cil­i­ties — ducts run­ning east and west; wires go­ing north and south,” they stated. “It is in these sit­u­a­tions — in sit­u­a­tions where it re­ally mat­ters and where mar­gins are tight — that Hamil­ton needs to know where (in this case) Bell put its fa­cil­i­ties.”

But the CRTC ruled cities should have to split the costs with tele­coms after all the ma­jor in­dus­try play­ers said el­e­va­tion data isn’t nec­es­sary. The car­ri­ers ar­gued the costs to get this data are oner­ous.

“It is counter-pro­duc­tive, for all par­ties, to re­quire tele­com car­ri­ers to un­nec­es­sar­ily dis­turb streets and rights-of-way in or­der to pro­duce in­for­ma­tion that has lit­tle to no value,” the car­ri­ers stated last year.

Find­ing this in­for­ma­tion re­quires dig­ging and costs a few thou­sand bucks per site. While it’s a small cost, it adds up given the vol­ume of in­fra­struc­ture needed.

The CRTC’s de­ci­sion on cost­ing aimed to avoid friv­o­lous re­quests from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

The ma­jor car­ri­ers are re­view­ing the cities’ ap­pli­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to spokes­peo­ple from Bell and Rogers.

“Bell in­vests bil­lions of dol­lars in in­fra­struc­ture each year and works co-op­er­a­tively with hun­dreds of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try to bring new broad­band net­works and ser­vices to res­i­dents,” Bell said in an email.

“We value our part­ner­ships with mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try,” Rogers said.

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