March 21, 2018 1 year 7 months ago

Ontario ISPs band together to fight pole rate increases

TORONTO – Internet service providers of every size and shape (except one big one) have launched a new coalition to rally Ontarians to help them battle large proposed rate increases for utility pole attachments.

While some local hydro companies have been pushing rates far higher, the Ontario Energy Board wants to set a standard rate across the province of $52 per pole per year, far above the current rate of $22.35. The three largest utilities, Hydro One, Toronto Hydro and Hydro Ottawa, have already boosted their rates to $41, $42 and $53.

Such rate increases for pole attachments will only drive up the costs for broadband and other services across the province, says the Ontario Broadband Coalition. (Ed note: Considering next generation 5G small cells will need many transmitters and most mobile companies are targeting utility poles for those, too, this is a wireless issue as well.)

The coalition members include small independent carriers like Cable Cable, the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance, the Independent Telecommunications Providers Association, and TbayTel, as well as larger ones like Eastlink, Cogeco, Shaw, Rogers, Vidéotron and Telus. It doesn’t appear as though Bell is taking part in the coalition, which makes sense because the company owns its own network of poles and charges many of these ISPs for attachments, at a rate mandated by the CRTC of $12.48 per pole per year. The OEB, however, is not subject to the CRTC – but the coalition believes it should be on this issue.

The coalition is calling on Ontario residents to send letters to the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Infrastructure, and copy their local politicians (MPP, MP, Mayor, Reeve, Councillors), with a form on its web site.

“If the OEB presses ahead with this reckless plan, the pole rates in Ontario would be double the average rate for the rest of Canada, making them the most expensive in North America,” says the site. “It will also be four times the rate that the CRTC has set for the very same poles owned by Bell Canada.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of poles across the provinces, so we’re talking about adding millions of dollars a year in operating costs to telecom companies, including small independent operators serving rural communities,” reads the site.

In many cases, hydro poles are the only way to reach certain communities and households and even if ISPs could afford to built their own lines of poles, it’s unlikely municipalities would allow that to happen. “This means customers and neighbourhoods located in more remote areas of the province would be at risk of not being part of a telecom provider’s plans to expand or enhance its network,” and that broadband rates will have to go up with this increase in costs.

The OEB is now reviewing all of the comments made during its consideration of the fee increase and is set to make final recommendations to the board executive for approval by April.