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