CBC Article on FTTH Exclusivity

When a CBC producer asked for volunteers to talk about their Fibre To The Home (FTTH) experience on the DSLReports.com web forum, I figured they'd have several takers. Apparently they didn't, since they sent reporter Aaron Saltzman and a cameraman to visit me last week and get feedback on my experience with FTTH so far. Read on for more background on the story.

The CBC story is online at this link:
Fibre optic cable battle: Smaller players want in on Big 3 networks.
It deals with the battle going on right now between the independent Internet & TV providers and the incumbents. The independents want access to homes serviced by FTTH - neighbourhoods such as ours. At present the last-mile provider isn't required to open up any FTTH infrastructure for wholesale usage by 3rd parties; the CRTC allowed that to happen in the hopes that it would spur investment in FTTH and more widespread deployment. Independents and consumers are hoping that the CRTC will rule on the matter this summer and set a date by which wholesale access will be mandated on all last-mile infrastructure. The same arguments are being made regarding wireless service in Canada, so the CRTC has a lot to do this year.

New Home, New Telecom Options

Last year we decided it was time to downsize since both kids had graduated and were working and living 6 hours away in Kitchener. In November 2014 we took possession of a new home in a new neighbourhood in the west end of the Ottawa region. There were lots of things we liked about the neighbourhood, and I especially liked that Bell was deploying FTTH through the entire neighbourhood. Rogers was bringing fibre to the overall neighbourhood, but each house was getting the usual coax copper line. In an odd way that was good for us, because while FTTH at the moment is not opened up to 3rd party Internet providers like Start and TekSavvy, I knew we'd be able to get Internet from just about any ISP over that coax line.

Being a new neighbourhood, both Bell and Rogers offer sweetheart deals to home buyers via the builders - 6 months of free TV, Internet, and home phone. Being a cord cutter who uses VoIP for our home phone, I didn't really care about anything other than the Internet connection, but free is free so I took Bell up on their offer so I could see if FTTH was everything it was cracked up to be. I was a little nervous about setting up an account with one of the incumbents given how difficult they've been to deal with in the past, but the pain of having to deal with them to cancel service was 6 months away so I figured I had plenty of time to shop for deals and psych myself up for the painful call to customer service. In fact I was planning on doing that in the next couple of days since we're nearing the 5 month anniversary and I was told to make any changes before we start our 6th month of service. My 45 minutes in the dentist chair yesterday will probably be an order of magnitude more enjoyable than the call to cancel.

With Bell we got their Fibe TV "Best" package, 50/50 Internet service, and basic home phone. While it's been nice watching TSN and Sportsnet during the Ottawa Senators playoff drive, we were quite happy before when we watched games by streaming them using a Roku 3 and NHL Gamecenter Live. The only real bonus for us with Fibe TV was that we could watch pre and post-game coverage, or flick on Sports Centre to watch highlights the next morning. Having been without cable or satellite since 2012 changed our viewing habits though, and we've found we don't really miss conventional TV service.

As for the home phone service, I used it to hook our alarm panel up to the monitoring service since it wasn't going to cost me anything for 6 months. In the next week I'll be switching to Internet-based monitoring from the same monitoring company at the same price. It requires the addition of a network board to the alarm panel, but that's a one time cost of $150 which includes the labour. Well worth it to avoid a ~$36+HST monthly home phone bill.

As a result, I plan to cancel the TV and home phone at the end of 6 months and see what kind of deal I can get from Bell for just their Fibe Internet service. I've had 150/10 and 60/10 service from Start Communications in the past, so the download speed of Fibe 50/50 isn't anything earth-shattering, but the extra upload speed sure is nice when I'm working remotely. I also get phenomenally low ping times to my work network when I'm working from home over a VPN - typically around 4-5ms versus about 20-25ms when I was using cable Internet at the previous house. Here's my result from Speedtest.net:

Fibe 50/50 Speedtest

What Next?

Rogers has some fairly aggressive Internet pricing at the moment, so I'm hoping that Bell will be motivated to give me a good deal on just Internet service.

To inform myself prior to attempting any negotiations, I've been trying to figure out what it will cost me if I were to get either Internet and a TV package with TSN & Sportsnet, or just Internet and NHL+MLB streaming subscriptions. These numbers change fairly regularly over time and you have to sift through a fair bit of fine print to find all of the extra fees and bundling discounts, but this is what I've come up with so far. In all cases I'm looking at Internet service that is either unlimited or has at least 300GB of monthly usage. If you stream a lot of sports and Netflix you're going to need that much most months.

When looking at the offerings from Bell and Rogers, the winner is Rogers with either the 250/20 or 100/10 service. They benefit from Rogers' inclusion of NHL GameCenter Live and unlimited usage - I'd pay extra for both with Bell. Since we're not yet in the era of pick-and-pay, the cost of TV service and equipment rental to get TSN+Sportsnet is way higher than adding NHL and MLB streaming subscriptions to the cost of Internet.

Bell TVBell 175
Bell 50Rogers TVRogers 250Rogers 100
Internet Package50/50175/17550/50100/10250/20100/10
Internet Cost$73.95$93.95$73.95$84.99$94.99$84.99
Unlimited Extra Cost$30.00$30.00
TV PackageSelectNoneNoneDig PlusNoneNone
TV Cost$64.00$64.00
PVR Rental$15.00$25.00
2nd Set-top Box$7.00$13.00
Bundle discount-$27.00-$25.00
NHL GameCenterTV$15.00$15.00IncludedIncludedIncluded

The independents are all fairly similar in price since all have to pay the same wholesale rates to Rogers for use of their infrastructure.

Acanac 500GBStartStart 300GBTekSavvyTekSavvy 400GBVMedia
Internet Package60/1060/1060/1060/1060/1060/10
Internet Cost$68.95$65.00$65.00$94.95$69.95$74.95
Unlimited Extra Cost$15.00
TV PackageNoneNoneNoneNoneNonePremium
TV Cost$44.95
PVR Rental$7.95
2nd Set-top Box$7.95
Bundle discount-$5.00
NHL GameCenter$15.00$15.00$15.00$15.00$15.00TV

You'll notice that the faster speeds from Rogers (250/20 and 100/10) aren't available from any of the independent ISPs at the moment. That's because the wholesale rates Rogers has set for those services along with the charges for network capacity make it difficult for independents to compete with Rogers own pricing, plus the cable modems that they need to supply to customers to receive the higher speed service are in short supply and very expensive. Hopefully that will soon be corrected by the CRTC with adjustments to wholesale capacity rates, but in the meantime most of the 3rd party ISPs top out at 60/10 service in Rogers territory.

We'll see if Bell is willing to do any dealing on the Internet front. If not I'll probably try one of Rogers Internet-only packages until I can get something similar from an independent. Between that and the antenna going up in a few weeks we'll be back to what we were quite happy with from 2012 until late 2014.
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