The long drawn out fight between cablecos and ISPs over third party access may finally be coming to a close. Then again, technology may delay the launch even further. The major cable companies have filed implementation schedules with the CRTC for Third Party Residential Internet Access (TPRIA). Vidéotron Communications Inc is the furthest ahead, with Cogeco Cable Inc, Rogers Cablesystems Ltd and Shaw Cablesystems Ltd bringing up the rear. All sides are eagerly awaiting the commission's decision on tariffs, expected to be released shortly. Then the wheels will start turning. "A request from an ISP triggers it all for third party access. The schedules that have been filed by the different cable companies range between 12 weeks for Vidéotron and 18 to 21 weeks for the other three cable companies," Janet Yale, president of the Canadian Cable Television Association, explained to Network Letter. "And that difference I think can be largely explained by the fact that Vidéotron is ahead because they've been doing the field trial. So they've got a little more experience than anybody else because they're the only ones actually doing it in advance of the final tariff." In its application, Shaw predicts that TPRIA service activation will begin in March of next year. But any request filed by an ISP will still take weeks to implement. Shaw proposes that the service providers list points of interconnection (POI) sites and detail the types of transmission facilities they intend to interconnect with. The cableco will then spend 10 days on preliminary POI and interconnection design. A preliminary report on designs and costs will take 15 days to prepare. The ISP, in turn, will have 10 days to review the report and make comments on it. Detailed design work should be finished in 20 days. Alterations to the POI should be completed in 10 days. It is estimated that delivery of the POI equipment and the carrier's facilities will take another 50 days. Installation and interconnection testing should follow within a month. At first blush, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) thought the long time frames were more stalling tactics on the part of the cablecos. "The initial reaction was ‘here we go again, another delay'," CAIP president Jay Thomson told Network Letter. "I can't believe that Canadians would have to wait until March of 2001 to see cable competition. That being said, we're taking a closer look at those letters." Thomson expects his organization will finalize its response by early July. Roll out depends on technology Technical concerns could be the major cause of delays. Like most cablecos in North America, the companies that have filed with the CRTC will be using DOCSIS equipment. But the current version of the system is less robust than the modem technology currently being deployed by some firms. Shaw, for example, worries that early deployment could lead to "unavoidable problems associated with the introduction of new technologies." It is awaiting the arrival of DOCSIS 1.1, which will replace DOCSIS 1.0 early next year. "That is one of the key differences between Rogers and Shaw on the one hand and Vidéotron on the other," Yale notes. "Vidéotron is a 1.0 system. And it's not a right or wrong it's just different business approaches to this conversion process. They both make sense. It just depends where you started from." Thomson becomes wary when upgraded equipment is mentioned. "What happens in the event these particular modems aren't ready in the time frame that they've proposed?" he asks. "Are we looking at something longer than March 2001 if we're tied to those modems?" Shaw is bullish on the new system. "Many DOCSIS 1.1 products will have improved robustness compared to the existing DOCSIS 1.0 products," the company writes in its proposal to the CRTC. "In addition, DOCSIS 1.1 products will provide increased functionality and service capability (such as improved security through the authentication of modems.) Shaw has concluded that the efficient evolution of its network involves the migration directly to a DOCSIS 1.1 platform." Third-party cable access moving even slower in the U.S.Canada's evolution to third party access is having more success than it is in the U.S. In December 1998, the city council in Portland OR approved the transfer of a cable franchise from Tele-Communications Inc to AT&T Corp on condition that the telco open up access to its high-speed Internet connections. AT&T disputed this, saying only the Federal Communications Commission could issue such an order. A lower court agreed with the municipality in June 1999, but last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in the telco's favour. Even staff members at the FCC expect the matter to land on their doorstep before too long. CAIP's Thomson thinks Canada can show the U.S. and other countries how to roll out a system. "We have been world leaders in opening up the cable network to competition. But we've lost ground recently because of the delays, because of the slow down in getting it to actually happen, moving it from the regulatory decisions to the actual implementation," he notes. "If we get favorable tariff rates at the end of and a reasonable implementation schedule then we'll be able to take the lead again. I think everyone will be looking at Canada as the one to look at for this." Thomson still can't say for certain if his group will file an intervention with the CRTC. "After we do our due diligence, if we're still of the opinion that this is a problem, then we will respond," he says. "If for some reason we agree with the cable companies, and that would possibly be a first, then we wouldn't respond."