After a period of relative public calm, the internet access wars are ratcheting up once again with the CRTC being asked to intervene in a dispute between independent service providers and Rogers.
This time it’s the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, an affiliation of indie ISPs, accusing Rogers of trying to unfairly charge more for higher-speed services. CNOC says Rogers recently boosted download and upload speeds for its own retail customers without any price increases, a move that is supposed to automatically result in those same speeds being made available to independent ISPs who use parts of its network. CNOC says Rogers is offering its members those higher speeds, but only at an additional cost.
Marc Gaudrault, chief executive of TekSavvy – one of the larger CNOC members – announced on Thursday that the group had filed an application with the CRTC to enforce the so-called speed-matching rules. According to the regulator’s decision in 2006:
The Commission determines that should a cable carrier introduce a speed upgrade to one of its retail internet service offerings with no corresponding price change, it is to issue at the same time, revised [third-party ISP access] tariff pages that match these retail service speed changes with no corresponding price change.
CNOC wants the CRTC to order Rogers to raise the 18, 28 and 32 megabit-per-second service speeds offered to its members to 25, 35 and 45 Mbps, respectively, with no price increases.
The regulator has responded and is indeed expediting the application. Rogers has been ordered to reply by the end of this week, with a further rebuttal from CNOC due by the end of next week.
At the heart of the matter is something called aggregated points of interconnection, which – if I really got into it – would guarantee the loss of at least three-quarters of the readers who have made it this far, and possibly induce sleep in the rest. Suffice it to say, aggregated and non-aggregated POIs are different methods of moving internet traffic around and counting it.
Rogers wants indie ISPs to move onto the aggregated method, something it says the CRTC essentially ordered at the conclusion of the big usage-based billing fiasco a year ago. Here’s what a spokesperson told me:
We are not denying TPIAs access to our new speeds provided they have moved to a single point of connection, called an aggregated point of interconnection (POI). As part of the usage based billing rulings in November of last year, TPIAs were given two years to move from a disaggregated POI to an aggregated POI. The sooner this happens, the sooner we can provide those speeds to these third party ISPs. Rogers will continue to provide access at existing speeds on the old network architecture until November 15, 2013.
The dispute, as usual, boils down to whether or not Rogers’ move can be considered anti-competitive. The small ISPs argue that it is, since Rogers’ own retail customers are getting the benefit of higher speeds without higher prices, yet the indie companies – and their own subscribers by extension – are being expected to pay more.
If it’s uneconomical for the indies to sell the faster speeds, they won’t, in which case the big network owners like Rogers will hold a distinct advantage since internet access is sold largely on speeds. Since they’ll simply perish if they can’t keep pace, the indie ISPs will ultimately have no choice but to accept the higher prices being pushed on them – and that effectively neutralizes the entire point of their existence, which is to provide a competitive check to the big guys.
Since last year’s UBB ruling, the indie ISPs have also been arguing against some of the wholesale traffic volume costs put forward by the likes of Bell and Rogers. Some, like TekSavvy, are waiting for the CRTC to rule on those before deciding on whether to offer higher speeds, such as 75 or 100 megabits.
Does the quick acceptance of CNOC’s application by the “new” consumer-friendly CRTC mean Rogers is heading for a wrist-slapping, with higher speeds for indie ISPs following soon thereafter? It’s certainly possible to read the tea leaves that way.
In the greater sense, it’s good to see Rogers raising speeds regardless, especially in uploads. The company is offering up to 250 megabit upload speeds on its Ultimate Fibre plan, although the more realistically priced plans include uploads between two and four megabits.
Canada holds a woeful position internationally when it comes to upload speeds, currently ranking 68th with an average speed of 2.38 megabits per second, according to Ookla’s Net Index. Not only is that half the world average of 4.76 Mbps, it’s also behind the likes of Uganda, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Rwanda.
While broadband has generally been sold to the mass market in terms of download speeds, uploads are becoming just as important as we move to cloud services and social media sharing. Posting a YouTube or Facebook video or backing up your files and documents through something like iCloud is terribly slow in Canada relative to the rest of the world.
Not only is that annoying, it’s also a pretty strong indicator that such services – and therefore businesses – are unlikely to emerge here. We need faster download speeds too, but not as much as better upload speeds.