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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Imagine the Power of the SuperNet in Your Home - From Your Phone Line

The technological changes around broadband are becoming very interesting and exciting. Telcos and cable companies are trying to play in each other’s markets as they move to compete in both television and telephone services. This competition ought to be good for consumers in terms of service and cost - but will it?

It gets more exciting in Alberta with the additional intrigue of the publically owned and privately operated fibreoptic network known as the SuperNet. There is an enormous range of new possibilities for individual citizens and enterprises in every community in Alberta, once they have access to this fabulous 21st century SuperNet infrastructure.

The SuperNet fibre optics network cost Alberta taxpayers about $700m to install. Local connections – the so-called “last mile” (known as the “first mile” if you are in rural Alberta) was to be provided by local private Internet Service Providers (ISPs). If an ISP did not step up to serve a community then Bell would provide the last/first mile connection.

The last mile solution so far has been wireless radios and satellites. But something new is in the wind. Something old has become new again. And it can also provide another even more competitive connection option for the first/last mile challenge. That old thing that is suddenly new again is SuperNet connectivity using plain old copper telephone wire.

Hardwired telephones are already everywhere in the province. This copper telephone wire is reliable, robust, resilient and resistant to interference from weather conditions. It is also regulated by the CRTC and likely to be priced very competitively compared to the Big Three Telco’s wireless oligopoly.

This plain old copper wire is also capable of providing full motion high definition video conferencing to and from your home or business anywhere in Alberta. The current practice of limiting Internet uploads and downloads by the big ISPs is not a problem once you have access to the SuperNet. It is an enormous data pipe and publically owned and controlled to serve the public interest not just for private gain like the Telcos. Nothing against the free open and competitive marketplace but one has to wonder if that really exists in the cell phone and wireless business world in Canada these days.

Actually using copper wire for Internet access is not new. It was the norm in Alberta before DSL lines came in. By the looks of it copper wire is coming back as a “new normal.” Yesterday’s Globe and Mail ran a story on BCE who says they going to be using its copper telephone wire to provide broadband to homes in Ontario and Quebec. They are only providing the excessively expensive fibre optic cable to a limited number of new apartment and condos which must have at least 100 units to justify the cost. What is more the fibre stops at the building basement and the signal into the individual units will be via the good old copper telephone wire.

That is exactly what needs to happen in Alberta. We need to get individual home and business copper wire access to the SuperNet just as Bell is doing in Ontario and Quebec. The only difference is in Alberta the telephone lines are owned by Telus - not Bell. Bell recently said they did not see the “business case” for them to use copper wire access to Alberta’s SuperNet. Strange isn’t it that there is a business case for copper wire internet access by Bell in Ontario and Quebec. Could it be because Bell owns the copper wires in Ontario and Quebec - but not in Alberta? Remember, Telus owns the wires in Alberta.

Telus has not been playing much of a part in the Alberta SuperNet project. They lost the bid to build it originally to Bell. They have recently been negotiating with the government of Alberta on the copper wire access issue but they seem reluctant to agree. This reluctance is impeding individual Albertans from expanded and enhanced internet and other SuperNet capacity services including full motion video conferencing capacity in and from your home or business.

I will talk in later Blog posts what that could mean for Albertans economically, ecologically and socially. Yes sir – exciting times indeed, especially when you consider is was only 15 years ago the Alberta Research Council enabled the commercial Internet in this province. Lot has happened since the Internet became an everyday part of our lives. With SuperNet access pending using copper telephone wire, even more exciting times and opportunities are coming.