Ru­ral In­ter­net threat­ened

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - WAYNE LOWRIE

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal that could claw back In­ter­net ser­vices from hun­dreds of thou­sands of ru­ral Cana­dian house­holds, in­clud­ing 31,000 in east­ern On­tario, in favour of pro­vid­ing en­hanced cov­er­age in ur­ban ar­eas.

The pro­posal now be­ing con­sid­ered by In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic Development Canada would take broad­band spec­trum used by ru­ral wire­less providers and auc­tion it off for 5G wire­less that would be used mainly in the big cities. With 5G, the ur­ban providers could of­fer en­hanced wire­less that could ac­com­mo­date such in­no­va­tions as self-driv­ing cars.

In a sub­mis­sion to ISED, which wrapped up pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on the spec­trum auc­tion in midAu­gust, In­ter­net provider Xplor­net warned the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal would have dire con­se­quences for ru­ral Cana­di­ans.

“Since there are no al­ter­na­tive spec­trum bands avail­able to which Xplor­net and other providers can move their ru­ral cus­tomers, the re­sult of the op­tions pro­posed will mean the re­duc­tion or dis­con­nec­tion of ser­vice to 200,000 or more ru­ral house­holds, with Xplor­net alone for­feit­ing be­tween 25 to 66 per cent of its spec­trum in the 3500 MHz band,” the com­pany told ISED.

“This will leave ru­ral Cana­di­ans, who cur­rently lack other op­tions, with less ro­bust In­ter­net ser­vices and force them to once again be left be­hind in the dig­i­tal econ­omy.”

The East­ern On­tario Re­gional Net­work (EORN) and the re­gion’s war­dens have also ex­pressed alarm at the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal.

EORN told the gov­ern­ment it is “ex­tremely con­cerned” by the spec­trum claw­back, adding it would af­fect up to 31,000 house­holds and busi­nesses in ru­ral East­ern On­tario,

“There are no other ter­res­trial broad­band al­ter­na­tives avail­able for these res­i­dents and we have no hope or ex­pec­ta­tion that the re­al­lo­ca­tion of 3500 spec­trum for 5G would pro­vide broad­band ser­vices to all of these res­i­dents at any time in the near fu­ture based on past experience,” it said in one of its two briefs to ISED.

EORN and the war­dens also ar­gue that tak­ing the spec­trum away from ru­ral east­ern On­tario would cost the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments about $11.9 mil­lion in­vested in EORN.

The pro­posed claw­back would make that in­vest­ment “worth­less,” EORN warns, adding the $11.9 mil­lion doesn’t include the money in­vested by the pri­vate sec­tor.

Lisa Severson, who speaks for EORN, said the net­work wants the gov­ern­ment “to do no harm.” If it needs spec­trum for 5G, it should not take away ru­ral ser­vice to get it.

Severson was re­luc­tant to char­ac­ter­ize the is­sue as an ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide, say­ing the gov­ern­ment has to make hard de­ci­sions on al­lo­cat­ing spec­trum.

“It’s a bal­anc­ing act,” she said. But James Maun­der, Xplor­net’s vice-pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said the spec­trum claw­back is ab­so­lutely an ur­ban-ru­ral is­sue.

“The ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide has been an is­sue that com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments at all lev­els have been try­ing to ad­dress for a long time,” Maun­der said.

He de­scribed the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to claw back ser­vices to ru­ral Cana­di­ans as “un­prece­dented.” The gov­ern­ment has re­al­lo­cated spec­trum use among com­pa­nies be­fore, but it has al­ways pro­vided al­ter­na­tive spec­trum to the ex­ist­ing users, he said. In this case, the gov­ern­ment pro­posal sim­ply would re­duce ser­vice to ru­ral Cana­di­ans with­out pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tives, he said.

In its brief, Maun­der’s com­pany said ISED “pro­poses to undo much of what has been ac­com­plished in the last decade to con­nect Cana­di­ans and bring In­ter­net ser­vices to those liv­ing out­side Canada’s ur­ban cen­tres.”

The pro­posed pol­icy“dis­pro­por­tion­ately favours the in­ter­ests of large, ur­ban mo­bile providers at the ex­pense of In­ter­net users in ru­ral Canada,” the com­pany says.

Sev­ers on said E OR N wants the gov­ern­ment to break up the spec­trums into smaller chunks so that ur­ban cen­tres don’t dom­i­nate the ar­eas.

In grant­ing the right to use broad­band, the gov­ern­ment im­poses con­di­tions on the com­pa­nies to meet cer­tain cov­er­age thresh­olds, she said. When the ar­eas are large and include ur­ban cen­tres, the com­pa­nies of­ten can meet the cov­er­age re­quire­ments by serv­ing the cities and pay lit­tle at­ten­tion to the sur­round­ing ru­ral ar­eas.

The solution, ac­cord­ing to EORN, is to break up the ar­eas into small pieces or make ru­ral-only ar­eas, she said.

ISED started its con­sul­ta­tions on the spec­trum claw­back in June and com­pleted them last month. A de­ci­sion is ex­pected some­time this fall. wlowrie@post­

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