Canada Gives MSOs ISP Access Order

Ottawa -- Canada's four largest MSOs have their marching
orders: They must set rates for third-party access to their high-speed Internet networks
by Sept. 3, even though trials meant to determine these rates have yet to begin.

Moreover, costing research must support these rate
proposals. Given the lack of test results, that's not going to be easy, said Ken
Engelhart, regulatory vice president for Rogers Cablesystems Ltd., one of the four MSOs.

"We have to do the costing based on some assumptions
of what the network is [going to look like]," he said. "In an ideal world, you
would rather have had the network design completely finalized before you tried to cost it

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission issued the order last Tuesday. In addition to Rogers, the order affects Shaw
Communications Inc., Cogeco Cable Canada Inc. and Le Groupe Vidéotron Itée.

The four MSOs are part of the CRTC's effort to foster a
competitive Internet-service market by forcing MSOs to share their high-speed networks
with third-party Internet-service providers.

In the past, some ISPs have accused Canada's MSOs of
dragging their heels on access. Their complaints apparently won a sympathetic audience at
the CRTC. In fact, that's why the Sept. 3 deadline was imposed, CRTC vice chair of
telecommunications David Colville said.

Now that it's on the books, "I would hope that this
will resolve most of the issues that the Internet-service providers have had in terms of
getting access to this infrastructure, and this will now allow the ISPs to get
higher-speed access and to be more competitive in the marketplace," Colville added.

At the very least, Canada's ISPs saw the CRTC's decision as
"good news," said Ron Kawchuk, past president of the Canadian Association of
Internet Providers.

For them, getting access to high-speed networks such as
@Home Network -- an affiliate of Shaw and Rogers -- is "vital," because
"there won't be a low-speed business in two or three years."

Understandably, the Canadian cable-TV industry isn't quite
so euphoric.

Small wonder: The industry has been counting on a
Montreal-based interconnection trial between Vidéotron and UUNet to help it decide what
to charge.

Unfortunately, the trial -- which hasn't started -- won't
be finished until mid-2000, Canadian Cable Television Association vice president of
regulatory affairs Steven Guiton said.

When asked how the cable-TV industry can set a tariff
without firm test results, he replied, "Well, this is the problem, and that's what
we're trying to work out right now."

They'd better do a good job of guessing, because their
filings will likely become the standard against which all future better-informed filings
will be judged.