Network diversity requires access: Canadian businesses deserve their choice of telecom provider

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By Todd Hofley

The July 8 services outage was a wake-up call for our industry and its regulators to address the lack of competition in our communications ecosystem.

As a telecom provider, we recognize the Rogers outage was every telco’s worst nightmare. We understand how such a disaster can affect businesses deeply. There has been a lot of discussion about how much Canadians need an ecosystem with redundancy and resiliency, and the terrible risk we face by having a market dominated by only a few large incumbents. 

The fact is, no single ISP is immune to outages. Most downtimes involve small, localized parts of their network –micro-outages resulting from damaged fibre-optic cables. Businesses and network providers make an effort to create resilient systems for themselves by building redundant connections and diverse routes into their network infrastructures. When done right, the second Internet connection is truly independent from the first, creating an alternate route without sharing any common points with the main route. The Rogers outage on July 8 resulted in shocking examples of what can happen when a carrier is actually a company network’s single point of failure and has brought the conversation of carrier diversity to the forefront.

Building diversity

One challenge that many businesses face when it comes to creating network diversity is their building. When it comes to connectivity, not all buildings are created equal. Some have digital infrastructures that are better able to assure uninterrupted connectivity. A building that offers multiple high-speed fibre providers means more options for this vital diversity, as well as access to competitive pricing.

Multi-tenant buildings can pose a challenge to carriers building telecom facilities into, and within, them. The ownership of cables and structures in public roadways is well-established, but the “last inch” of vertical and horizontal pathway inside a building is less understood. In its Broadcasting Distribution Regulations and its Telecom Decision CRTC 2003-45, the CRTC prohibits building owners from denying any registered facilities-based carriers access to the building to install or upgrade wiring and equipment. This includes access to the vertical and horizontal pathways to all the tenants within.

Despite this framework, there are property owners and property managers that impede this access – particularly for smaller carriers. Although it’s rare for a carrier to be denied access outright, it does happen despite the CRTC decision. And there’s very little recourse for the carrier.

For a smaller carrier, the biggest barrier to access multi-tenant office buildings is cost. The CRTC framework allows for property owners to bill carriers for costs incurred from this access, on a cost-recovery basis. This gave rise to Riser Management Firms (RMFs) – contracted by property managers to oversee telecom infrastructure within their buildings. Because there is a relative lack of regulatory oversight over this “last inch”, many RMFs charge fees that do not appear to be directly cost-based. These fees have risen significantly over the last decades –amounting to an access fee into the building. These fees may make it cost-prohibitive for a smaller carrier to build into a particular building in order to service a single tenant, and if this cost is passed onto the consumer, it makes using a smaller carrier for diversity a more expensive option.

Canadian businesses deserve their choice of provider. CRTC 2003-45 and the related decisions and rulings offer some framework to protect that right, but it falls short of ensuring Canadian businesses have fair and equal access to their carrier of choice. That’s why Beanfield created TelCARRMA The Telecommunication Carrier Alliance for Responsible Riser Management & Access: an ad-hoc coalition of facilities-based telecom carriers seeking to ensure our interactions with property and riser managers are consistent with fair and reasonable access to buildings and their pathways. The Rogers outage highlights that a diversity of networks and true end-user choice is essential for the long term. That single point of failure we saw on July 8 is a cost too high for all of us to pay.

Beanfield has created a Linktree page where Canadians can find sources to help change the Canadian telecom landscape:

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Todd Hofley

Todd Hofley

Todd Hofley is the Vice President, Policy and Communications at Beanfield Metroconnect. Prior to this role, Todd was Director, Property Relations, responsible for all commercial Telecommunications Access Agreements across Beanfield’s portfolio of more than 3,000 buildings as well as managing and building out their residential portfolio. He is a former member of Airbnb’s policy team and has a rich history of urban community building.