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Canadian ISP Co-Op Shows Upside of Line Sharing 85

Golden Gael writes "The FCC got rid of mandatory line sharing in the US a few years ago, but it's alive and kicking in Canada, and an interesting article at Ars Technica looks at what can happen when there's vibrant broadband competition. 'Wireless Nomad does things a little differently. The company is subscriber-owned, volunteer-run, and open-source friendly. It offers a neutral Internet connection with no bandwidth caps or throttling, and it makes a point of creating wireless access points at the end of each DSL connection that can be used, for free, by the public. Bell Canada this is not.' The ISP has some ambitious plans for the future, including getting involved in WiMAX."
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Canadian ISP Co-Op Shows Upside of Line Sharing

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  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:50PM (#20962887)
    I live in a city of over half a million people. Last night I spent about 40 minutes trying to find out what my broadband options are. Nobody is upfront; it was incredibly difficult to determine even how much each service will cost after the teaser rates expire, especially if you don't want bundled local telephone or cable TV. Next, try to determine what DSL speed you'll get at your house, or what the upstream bandwidth for cable is. You can't. Just lots of stupid marketing fluff and "congratulations! Satellite Internet is available in your area!" type garbage. In the end I gave up, it didn't look like I have any real option besides what I have now - Comcast (which is good but too expensive, especially since I don't really want cable TV any more). I am sick of everybody pretending the free market is at work so everything is great. It isn't.
    • ^ Not a big free market believer

      "sick of everybody pretending the free market is at work so everything is great. It isn't."

      The problem in this case is not the free market itself, but rather that the average person has no idea what most of the stuff means. It's getting better, and we're seeing the beginning of the end for the market-speak in the internet area (the recent unlimited capped internet being the big thing now), but for the most part the average consumer has no idea what the applicable difference is between a 100 mb/s and 300 mb/s line is (they do know that one is 3x faster, but not how that will affect them and whether it's worth it). Because of that ignorance the providers are able to keep all the important information secret, because the majority cares more about whether they'll have the internet and be able to send e-mails rather than what they can expect their upload and download rates to be and what the caps are on their internet use. Once those are seen as important by the majority (read: once the majority is at least technologically sufficient, if not proficient) they'll start being advertised.

      Just thought I'd point that out. Internet here is quite pathetic, but it's not strictly a free market problem. It's more a general population problem which is amplified by having a free market environment.
      • And I just realized my first sentence looks like something else, it's supposed to be an arrow pointing to my name, not to the parent. Sorry bout that. I was just trying to get the point across that I don't normally defend the free market, as I think there should be a decent amount of regulation (especially in cases like this where the general population is ignorant to what's important)
      • The other problem is that the people who write copy, market, and sell this stuff have no idea what they are offering.
      • by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Saturday October 13, 2007 @03:00AM (#20963999)
        Just thought I'd point that out. Internet here is quite pathetic, but it's not strictly a free market problem. It's more a general population problem which is amplified by having a free market environment.

        No, it's not a "general population problem"; ignorance is economically rational because obtaining information has costs associated with it. Furthermore, it's part of a free market that sellers take advantage of this to charge more than they would if people had complete information.

        When you balance out all these effects, it means that a regulated market can sometimes operate more efficiently than a free market. That's why regulating cell phone and cable markets may make sense.

        The only "problem" with any of this is that laissez-faire free market proponents don't know their economics and propose bad economic policies.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Atrox666 ( 957601 )
        So exactly how bad will your economy have to tank before you admit the current system is counter productive?
        It seems like it's going to take eating dog food to convince some of these people that current economic theory is either wrong or a direct attack on humanity.
        I will try and focus on the topic related aspect of this.
        I can not compete fairly with Bell Canada because they pay lobbiests to make sure I can't.
        I've shaken hands with these people, nice suits.
        They also went through the boom times using MY mone
        • So exactly how bad will your economy have to tank before you admit the current system is counter productive?

          It's not about how bad the economy will tank. It is about when the American media will spoon feed this point of view to the public so they can start considering it. Now that is closer to flamebait. The parent poster asks some very legitimate and challenging questions so I am not surprised that some people would rather try and censor them (moderation is kind of censorship since most people do not browse at -1)

    • by localman ( 111171 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:17PM (#20963057) Homepage
      Amen to that. I love the market. I believe in the market. But the maket does not solve all problems. So let's elevate the conversation away from finger pointings of "socialist" and "fascist" and start discussing when it is appropriate to regulate and when it isn't. And we can even revisit it from time to time. Right now, my sense is that the broadband market is a mess, there is no real competition, and regulation is needed to push things in a better direction. If you disagree, fine, but you should have a better argument than "the market is teh best!".

      Cheers.
    • I am sick of everybody pretending the free market is at work so everything is great. It isn't.

      The whole point of the free market is, if you do not like the way companies provide a good or a service, you are more than welcome to secure your own investors, get your own right of way, run your own cable, and sell your own broadband.
      • Very funny.
      • Only to be crushed by being undersold until you go bankrupt, then watch in horror as the prices go back up. The big problem is that cable/telephone/etc infrastructure requires eminent domain, so government made it a monopoly. Though I hear govt-run service in France is cheaper, so perhaps it's the approach, and not the fact that there's government involvement.
        • by sxpert ( 139117 ) on Saturday October 13, 2007 @03:43AM (#20964095)
          there's no more government run service in France. France Telecom has been a private company for a while now.

          however, the market is heavily regulated to enhance competition, with mandatory local loop unbundling, regulated data backhaul prices for areas not yet unbundled, and regulated prices and availability for CO to CO fiber links for unbundler companies

          all this competition is imposed on France Telecom as they were the incumbent that inherited the entire original PSTN.

          Now that the 3 major ISPs are starting to set up FTTx, they are already regulated for fiber sharing at several locations along the path, notably at the building and Optical CO level

          and we get to pay 30 eur a month for uncapped service, including voip and tv over DSL
          • And those rules needs to be enforced by the government, aggressively, and that's what we did in FRance, and, surprise! it works.

            Neo-liberals (to you merkins that is conservatives, neo or not) worship Adam Smith but it's like they've never read him. A working free market needs choice, information and rational, free actors. When megacorporations are allowed to abuse their monopoly to remove choice and carpet bomb the media with BS advertising, you've got a non free market right here.

            That said, even the free m
            • mountains of cash for capitalists close to the gov't.

              This isn't "capitalism", this is "corruption". And that's true wherever it's happening.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tjstork ( 137384 )
          Only to be crushed by being undersold until you go bankrupt, then watch in horror as the prices go back up.

          I think these problems are more in your head than they are anything else. Your whole argument is so much fear mongering to mask a political agenda... "we can't compete, so therefor, let's get the government to do everything for us." That's as silly as it is not true, because, people have competed, and, if you do have the government steal the lines that a company laid down, you'll only be creating a si
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by poopdeville ( 841677 )
            Comcast was founded in 1963. It doubled in size after an acquisition in 1986, and then again in 2001, when they bought AT&T's cable service division.

            Verizon was founded in 1983 as the Bell Atlantic Corporation. An AT&T spinoff.

            Yes, there are lots of competitive newcomers in the market.
          • Have you never heard of Standard Oil? Free markets aren't as free as many believe them to be. I would really like to see someone (kudos if it's you) take the time and energy to somehow round up the necessary venture capital funding and talent to compete with said entrenched monopolies and do so successfully.
            Would you invest in such a company?

            We should choose the most efficient tool for the job, and it isn't always (although it is frequently) the free market. Proper regulation is a good thing.

      • In the US (and I believe in most countries), the physical layer of telephone and cable tv is by definition not a free market because the government grants the phone and cable companies monopolies. It does this because fiber, coax, and phone cabling are natural monopolies: It's in the general interest not to have every entrepeneur trying to duplicate everyone else's run of wire/fiber, and the government enforces that interest.

        The free market only applies when the barriers to entry are assumed zero, or at
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tjstork ( 137384 )
          n the US (and I believe in most countries), the physical layer of telephone and cable tv is by definition not a free market because the government grants the phone and cable companies monopolies. It does this because fiber, coax, and phone cabling are natural monopolies:

          That's actually not really true. Fiber, coax and phone cabling are all communications services, and they do compete against each other. The local governments provide a spot where these cables can go, but its up to the carrier to actually m
      • by westyvw ( 653833 )
        Modded as insightful??? Funny, yes, insightful... you've got to be kidding me.

        Hasn't at least ONE person here ever read Lessig's book The future of ideas?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by PJ6 ( 1151747 )
        Pure free markets do not work without regulation; the law of increasing returns make them very much like the board game Monopoly, where eventually one person has all the money. Regulation is just like the rules that make a game like football interesting to watch, where the best players and the best teams are given the opportunity to shine. Modern rhetoric about "the economy" often asserts that simply maximizing profits to business is for the greater good, and this is just not true; the greater good, maximi
      • My goodness you're right, I'm not rich enough and consumers aren't getting screwed enough.

        I'll make a business plan where people buy into me and I get subsidies from the government to provide a service... I'll get paid at both ends!

        I'll use clever buy in prices and lies to get people to get my service! But who will I get to help me keep people buying this inferior service when they find out? My competition! And they can buy me out and get even bigger!

        Thanks Free market! You gave me EXACTLY what I was
        • by tjstork ( 137384 )
          My goodness you're right, I'm not rich enough and consumers aren't getting screwed enough.

          So what's your stupid alternative. Hey, let's get a bunch of preachers to go and talk about civic action and community and the need for collective action to solve some problem, rile everybody up, and then, what will you get? A government agency stuffed with a bunch of incompetent buddies of all these preachers, and when absolutely nothing works, you'll wind up with everyone in that organization saying, "geez, we need
    • There is a site that will list your options (for the US) and any recent prices/promotions:
      White Fence [whitefence.com]

      My wife found it while we were searching for our utility options at our new house.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by timeOday ( 582209 )
        Again, some services listed there look interesting, but there is no way to tell what the service will end up costing or how fast they will be. The DSL services are all "up to XXX kbps," meaning I could end up with who knows what depending on the quality and length of wiring to my home. And the prices quoted don't include "taxes and governmental surcharges, if any." Well, are there any? Oh, and "ISP service required." So what are my options and the prices for that? You can't find out without putting in
        • That sucks. Our company guarantees you're at most 600m from a DSLAM, so you can get HDTV over our IPTV service. If we say 10mbps, that's what you get.
          • similar here with Sasktel. they keep the loop length at less than 900m. once they finish rolling out VSDL2 in the major centres, they'll like to go shortening that to improve bandwidth.
            • I work for SaskTel ;) And you're right, it is 900m, I brainfarted that comment. But 900m is close enough to get the max bandwidth out of these DSLAMS with the ADSL2+ cards that are in them. They're neat, I was on a team installing them in cabinets, and they server 196 customers and can have several gigabit connections hooked up to them. They currently have one.

              Another neat thing about them is that SaskTel is working with Alcatel to develop them, we're the first company to use them. Sort of like the Luc
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by zzatz ( 965857 )
        White Fence shows the options that they were paid to show. For my address, they did not show the cable company that covers half the county, or any third party DSL provider. Including the one I am using right now. There are at least a half dozen other DSL providers, several wireless companies, and as previously mentioned, the cable company that has covered this area for more than a decade. None are shown. Only $GIANT_TELCO and satellite TV are shown. I'm sure that the fact that only competitors to cable are
        • Broadbandreports.com does a much better job listing Internet access providers.

          Here's what I get when I go to dslreports.com and click "Broadband prequalification process (what can I get?)"

          Closed until further notice

          Prequalification APIs from the major telcos are unavailable to third parties unless they are also allowed to spam or direct-market you merely for enquiring after availability. If you only check the majors, you are missing out on whether local ISPs may be offering equivalent or better servic

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:33PM (#20963149)

      I am sick of everybody pretending the free market is at work so everything is great. It isn't.


      I am sick of everyone pretending there is a free market. There isn't
    • by Britz ( 170620 )
      Sorry, but internet service is a so called natural monopoly. Look it up on wikipedia or elsewhere. Natural monopolies have to be regulated. The market here only works as good as the regulation is designed. And they are still working on that. I heard that in the US (I am from Europe) they actually have some very good regulation frameworks for stuff like energy.

      So don't blame this one on that market, please.

      Thx

      A free market believer
  • Getting results (Score:5, Interesting)

    by freelance cynic ( 653710 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:03PM (#20962979)

    Before anyone comes in screaming that this isn't how the "free" market is supposed to work, how bad governement intervention is, etc. etc., let me point out the following:

    In Canada, the biggest telco, by far, Bell Canada, was for a very long time a state sanctioned monopoly and thus recieved tons of public funds to help build its infrastructure (not unlike the situation in the US). Due to this fact, the CRTC (the Canadian equivalent of the FCC, but usually with a clue), forces Bell to allow access to its lines to competitors, as mentionned in the article.

    Results? While the particular company Ars focused on isn't a resounding success (even if it has cool ideas), there's tons of others that are. Example: unlimited, uncapped DSL, which would cost me 45$ with Bell, cost me 28$ with one of its competitors because Bell has to lease them the line for 22$/month (a price point at which they still make a profit, I feel it must be pointed out).

    And it's not just competition on prices and service level, it's customer service too. Anyone that had to deal with a telco before, at one point or another, pretty certainly wanted to go on a shooting spree. The company I deal with? Pick up the phone and someone (in Canada!) will answer, straight away, 24h a day... none of that "please press 1-3-2-6... please wait... we're receiving an unusual volume of call... waiting time is 17 minutes... your call is important to us" bullshit.

    So, basically, go mandatory line-sharing! Anyone wanna bet that it's never going to happen in the States? ;P

    • Heh. One time I called Charter Communications to get a problem with my cable resolved. I spent half an hour with their automated troubleshooter before finally getting to a real person who proceeded to walk me through the same procedures the troubleshooter did. At the end of the call I felt like I had just wasted 30 minutes of my life.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Yep, apparently it does work.

      We've had about the same thing in France. State owned telco monopoly. Opened up to competition a few year ago.
      Today ? An ISP named free pioneered the "triple play" offers with a 30 EUR DSL offer (up to 25 Mb/s if you actually happen to dwell in the DSLAM), and all others are following.
      The same ISP is now beginning to roll out fiber in some cities for the same exact price.
      It's not all perfect (hot lines have been less than stellar, to stay the least), but it's pretty nice.

      That IS
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by p0tat03 ( 985078 )

      Note: I do not work for these guys, nor do I get any benefit from pimping like this, I'm just a very satisfied customer.

      I'm not sure which ISP the parent post was referring to - there are a few of them. Actually, there are MANY 3rd party DSL providers in Canada, it's just that few of them are worth a damn (much like the big-boy telcos). I'm with TekSavvy [teksavvy.com] and they have been awesome for the last 8 months or so I've been with them. Fast speeds, cheap prices, 24h phone support that always gets answered by the

      • Ditto. I'm also a very satisfied TekSavvy customer. Their service is awesome. Unlimited and uncapped service. Great speeds and low pings. They offer peering through two backbone providers - one is unlimited, the other is capped at 100 GB but offers lower pings for on-line gaming. I have nothing but praise. The techs and their sales staff they know what they're talking about and are extremely pleasant. They gave me the setup instructions I needed in about 30 seconds. I haven't had to call support since I sig
        • by Guspaz ( 556486 )
          TekSavvy is currently rolling out service to all of Telus' operating area, which I'm pretty sure includes Vancouver. The CRTC's regulations don't apply just to Bell, they apply to all the incumbents, which includes Telus.

          Last I heard, they were hoping to have service go into testing in late October, but it's still a bit up in the air. You should check out TekSavvy's official forum on DSLReports for the latest.
          • Yeah, I know about the CRTC reg of the industry. I was commenting on Ontario and Quebec. With Vancouver, I meant it in the sense that the virtual monopolies that exist there probably account for the higher rates every one pays for services.

            Nevertheless, if TekSavvy will be operating in Vancouver, sounds great to me! I happen to be planning to move there soon.
    • Bell Canada, was for a very long time a state sanctioned monopoly and thus recieved tons of public funds to help build its infrastructure (not unlike the situation in the US)

      The AT&T of 1878 was and would remain privately financed.

      New York Sate financed construction of the Erie Canal on its own because it couldn't persuade the federal government to share in the costs of building and maintaining infrastructure.

      In 1938 there was - 1 - US public airport with a runway that could take the weight of a tran

    • none of that "please press 1-3-2-6... please wait... we're receiving an unusual volume of call... waiting time is 17 minutes... your call is important to us" bullshit.

      i used to work at one of Sasktel's call centres.

      we did have a fairly minimal phone menu (basically, "is the problem phone, internet, IPTV, or VOIP?" and "are you a business customer?") and the wait time is usually pretty good (less than 5 min, if not 0), aside from the occasional "shit hit the fan" moments, like a massive storm frying half the
  • Bell and Rogers are SLOWLY rolling out WiMax off their Cell towers. They're supposed to have most of the population in Canada covered in the next few years, though I highly doubt that, seeing as they're going to be trying to service areas that still have people stuck on 4-party lines, let alone having Cell towers in the area.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Lies.

      They worked together on a joint venture to bring a 'WiMAX'-like wireless technology to their cell towers, but it is not WiMAX, not by far, not even in the same family of radio technologies. Sorry.

      Go to rogers.com, or bell, lookup wireless internet offering, read... ;)
      • Eh, that's what they call it right on their WiMax page, and we have it installed at one of our facilities, since ISDN/T1/DSL wasn't available.

        I'm not too surprised they lie though, it IS bell canada after all.
  • by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Saturday October 13, 2007 @03:53AM (#20964131)

    These guys are clearly Like Us, and it's to be commended that they rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in. But from reading the article I got the impression they need to sharpen up their business skills a lot. For all the bitching you see about how evil ISPs are on Slashdot, this article demonstrates nicely why they are that way. Some good quotes:

    Then came the first bills. Damien and Wilton found themselves immediately in debt to the wholesaler. The DSL subscribers had an unexpected thirst for data; the Wireless Nomad administrators had not set up their pricing scheme with these kind of numbers on mind.

    No shit they used a lot of data. A small, new ISP run by a couple of guys that's offering unlimited data access for a flat rate? That must have attracted torrent users like bees to honey. They blame video traffic later, but everytime I talk to an ISP employee about where their bandwidth goes, the answer is always "p2p, everything else" in that order. How did they not see this coming? Did they really think existing ISPs impose caps and throttles because they were told to last time they communed with Beazulbub? I won't even comment on using credit cards to pay business costs ....

    First, it's tough. People like brand names, even for ISPs, and they don't trust small providers to stay in business or to solve their tech support problems.
    Stories like this indicate why people might think that way.

    The idea is that a wireless router a few houses down from the main DSL link could relay the signal to another router even further down the block, and so on. If this worked properly, it could reduce the needed number of DSL circuits and could lower prices for all the co-op owners. Unfortunately, this was one of those not-quite-ready-for-primetime ideas, and it failed to live up to expectations ..... [on WiMax] Obviously, throwing open a DSL link to hundreds of simultaneous users invites total meltdown, but Fox suggests keeping the distance down and charging users a few bucks a months for access.

    I like their courage in trying to shake up the ISP market like this, but a cold, realistic assessment of why existing ISPs are the way they are would probably have helped.

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )
      The ISP i use de-prioritises p2p traffic, so that anything else takes priority over it. This results in p2p running very slowly or not at all during the working day (most of their customers are business users) but very quickly over night. I just leave a p2p client running overnight and its usually finished by the morning.
    • by Coryoth ( 254751 )
      For contrast, my ISP in Ottawa is non-profit co-op. They are rather more organised however. There are usage caps (40GB per month, which seems pretty reasonable), but the service is great, they encourage sharing your connections and costs with neighbours, and are significantly cheaper than Bell, while providing (ultimately) better service. Thus, while the particular group singled out in the article are a bit dodgy, line sharing has resulted in a number of other non-profit organisations providing cheap intern
    • Wireless Nomad only has 100 users (I'm one of them). Last I checked, they're not accepting new users, either.

      I think, then, that it's a bit much to suggest that WN attracted P2P users like bees to honey. Certainly, you had to be a bit more tech-savvy than most to know about WN, but I doubt its typical user is a 21 year old fileswapping gamer.

      Perhaps Wireless Nomad is better seen as a co-operative apartment building than as a typical ISP. There is a sense of community (honestly) that may help keep people in
  • In Finland Saunalahti [saunalahti.fi] has to offer somewhat similar deal with their Wippies [wippies.com] project. You cannot get unlimited bandwidth but you get a free ADSL/WLAN box plus a 4GB mailbox. The rules also define you must share your internet connection through the WLAN for the first year. There is also hot spot maps, blogs and other "creative stuff" built around it.
  • ``It offers a neutral Internet connection with no bandwidth caps or throttling, and it makes a point of creating wireless access points at the end of each DSL connection that can be used, for free, by the public.''

    Sounds great for the consumers, but how does the company generate revenue? They will still have to pay the bills.
  • Anybody know how well this box works as a SlimServer [slimdevices.com] MP3 server?
  • Americans are really clueles... Titling the article "sticking it to l'homme" for a Toronto ISP is like calling an Alabama ISP "A fine nigger ISP", given how the english HATE the french.
  • After reading the article, it was clear that Nomad Wireless never broke even and had very little chance of turning a profit. Why should we care about this article? Nomad only has about 100 customers.
    • Wireless Nomad is still doing just fine. I'm writing over their lines.

      What if they don't want to turn a profit? Isn't that worth talking about? And, FWIW, they do make enough to cover their costs. Check their FAQ.

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