The federal government should ensure wireless spectrum access to small Internet service providers so they can deliver high speed internet to rural Canadians, a newly formed not-for-profit is arguing.
The Canadian Association of Wireless Internet Service Providers, or CANWISP, was formed Monday when 20 Canadian ISPs came together to discuss how to ask Industry Canada to open up additional space on an unlicensed, free spectrum in order to provide increased bandwidth to their customers.
Licensed spectrums cost millions of dollars and can only be afforded by large telecom carriers, says Jonathan Black, chief financial officer of Storm Internet Services Inc., an Ottawa-based ISP.
But some licenced frequencies are underutilized by those major carriers, and would be better used by small ISPs so they can continue improving the speed of rural Internet services, Mr. Black says.
A licensing agreement for those underused frequencies will come to an end in 2014, and Industry Canada is currently deciding whether or not to renew the agreement. That’s why Canadian ISPs from Ontario, Alberta and Quebec came together to lobby the government to open the spectrum up to smaller companies.
Currently, the unlicensed spectrums used by small ISPs are overcrowded, Mr. Black says. That’s why Internet services to rural areas cap out with broadband speeds of around 10 megabits per second. It can be as low as 1.5 megabits per second, compared to urban areas where that speed goes up to about 50 megabits per second.
The 100 to 150 small wireless ISPs in Canada predominantly serve rural Canadians, Mr. Black says. They’re often owner-operated with a handful of employees, making them nimble and able to access less densely populated areas in ways that large carriers weren’t built to.
“A lot of our customers don’t have other options for high-speed Internet,” he says.
CANWISP’s meeting on Monday served to elect an executive team – on which Mr. Black will serve as treasurer – and prepare to submit a report to Industry Canada by the end of the month detailing why the spectrum should become unlicensed.
Mr. Black helped contact ISPs across the country to bring them together at the meeting originally to be hosted at Storm Internet Services’ local office. The response was so great that the venue had to be changed to the Minto Business Centre downtown.
“There’s an urgency to the filing,” Mr. Black says of the submission to Industry Canada. “We have to protect the bandwidth we need to continue to deliver higher speed broadband services.”
While Mr. Black says that smaller carriers will be able to continue offering existing services for the next decade or so, customer needs will continue to rise – and available bandwidth needs to rise with it.
“No one has ever said their Internet was too slow,” he says. “Our expectation is that people will continue to need higher reliability and speed in their bandwidth.”
Industry Canada is accepting comments on the issue until the end of the month, when it will review entries and publish its decisions at an unspecified date.
Storm Internet Services provides Internet in Ottawa Valley South and Lanark County, and is almost done building 45 new communications towers in the area to service its customers. The company provides wireless and DSL services, and has its own data centre.