Will Internet Service Become A Public Utility? A Canadian Case Study - US to Follow Suit?
The Net Neutrality regulations in Canada are quite complex and people here have been attempting to sort these, trying to disentangle the mess that the earlier federal administrations have left behind.
However, one Canadian city hopes to show the way towards successfully turning high-speed broadband services into a public utility; this despite the fact that the federal regulatory bodies aren’t keen to back this effort.
The City of New Westminster is situated in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, on British Columbia’s west coast. This city has been very steadily deploying a specialized BridgeNet strategy. The objective is to introduce high-speed Internet connectivity to their city and use this technology to promote social and health inclusion, via the use of public computers, Internet access, and training.
What is involved in this initiative
Bill Harper, the Councilor of New Westminster City stated: “BridgeNet is a key element in our Intelligent City initiative”. He said that this is one component of a larger strategy to attract high-tech companies and knowledge-based startups into their city. This initiative is but one part of the larger plan; however, the idea is to formulate a more cohesive strategy that will help build a health-care cluster.
The city was spurred by the snail-paced upgrade schedule that was being followed by the main telecom companies in the country. The City of New Westminster has now decided that it will connect the installation of this broadband service to the rest of its utilities. It means that whenever any new community is created or even if a new road is built, the Internet will now be added by default as part of the overall infrastructure.
Giving businesses a boost
Harper also stated that the economy is transitioning to the new digital innovation model from the old industrial model. The hope is that by ensuring that the community has access to the Internet, there will be far less disparity when it comes to access to this service and this will boost business growth.
In no way does this mean that the city is going to turn this initiative into a business endeavor. It simply means that it has taken the responsibility of creating a very strong base that will serve the city. The counsillor also noted that to date, four different ISPs have signed on to lease the city’s network. The proceeds from these leases will be used to recoup the investment as well as to reinvest into the further expansion of the project.
The Financial aspects of the project
Harper also said that it’s a smart move for the city to be involved in this development and expansion of the broadband service because they are uniquely equipped to provide this infrastructure at a very low cost. This network is owned and funded by the city; since the conduit is already in place, the installation becomes quite inexpensive. Over a period of 5 years, the city will spend an amount of $9 million, on this installation. The expectation is that this investment will be returned within 10 years.
At this point of time, the broadband network will serve the business district, municipal center, new high-density residential developments and office buildings in the city. The revenue generated will then be re-invested to expand this system and the rest of the city will have access to this service as well.
Today, telecom industries that lie to the south and the north of the border continue to protest against turning Internet into a public utility. In this kind of a landscape, the City of New Westminster has proved that with the right intent and resolve, they can provide an effective fast and affordable Internet service to their communities without having to fall in line with the snail-paced upgrades that telcos follow.