Cable operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) are still embroiled in a bitter fight over third-party access to networks, a battle that has raged for several years now. This time the Internet providers are accusing the carriers of using testing levels and technology standards as delaying tactics. The issue arises from Telecom Public Notice 2002-7, released last December, in which the CRTC sought to resolve differences around third-party Internet access (TPIA). The two key aspects of the debate are which standard of Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) should be used and the acceptability of cablecos requiring second-level testing to ensure that ISPs’ systems are compatible with their own. In the public notice, the commission set DOCSIS 1.1 as the minimum standard and said second-level testing must be done within 28 calendar days. The Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) agrees with the first proposal, after a fashion, but thinks the second has too narrow a time frame. "CCTA members submit that the minimum requirement for TPIA today should be DOCSIS 1.1 certified products," CCTA president/CEO Janet Yale writes in the association’s March 21 comments to the CRTC. "That being said, the minimum requirements for cable modem release version, which is proposed today should not be seen as a static requirement." Some cablecos will be rolling out DOCSIS 2.0 in the near future, she continues. The features of the upgraded system will accrue to both the cable firms and the ISPs, she maintains. The second-testing time frame is unrealistic, Yale tells the CRTC. She cites studies done by three of the major cablecos to ask for a two-month testing period. "CCTA and its members do not consider that 28 calendar days provide sufficient time to conduct the number of tests that are required to verify compatibility. As detailed in Rogers, Cogeco and Vidéotron’s test plans and guidelines, the modems are tested in a laboratory environment followed by field testing," she writes. "The 60 days takes into account laboratory and engineering resources scheduling, as well as consultations with the cable modem vendor to review test results, analyse problems, and complete written reports." The Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) is worried that the CCTA is using these objections to slow down the implementation of TPIA. CAIP president Jay Thomson uses the time frame argument as one example. "We have been and continue to be concerned throughout this process to make sure that the cable companies don’t take any steps that would cause the delay or further delay in the rollout of competitive cable services," he tells Network Letter. "So we are comfortable with the 28 days that the commission has suggested and are concerned that any longer time proposed by the cable companies might result in delays." In the original public notice, the CRTC suggested that cablecos should not charge ISPs for second-level testing. Not surprisingly, there is a sharp difference of opinion between the two sides on that issue. "CCTA strongly opposes this preliminary view and recommends that the cable carriers should be permitted to charge ISPs for conducting the second-level testing of third-party ISP cable modems," Yale writes. "Conducting second-level testing of cable modems for third-party ISPs requires the cable carriers to incur substantial costs to undertake such testing. As with any other costs incurred in the course of conducting business, the cable carriers, like any other company, must recover these costs to remain economically viable. Competitive equality and cost causality principles dictate that the third-party ISPs should compensate the cable carriers for the costs associated with conducting second-level testing on cable modems on their behalf." A group of ISPs, filing under the name the Coalition for Better Third Party Access (CBTPA), worries about this latest wrinkle. If cablecos charge fees for tests, each additional test would result in incremental costs. The CRTC should limit those charges, the CBTPA asserts. "ISPs have no more incentives to submit too many modems for second-level testing than cable carriers have resources to second-level test too many modems," CBTPA consultant François Menard writes in the group’s March 21 filing. "Should the CNO be treated unfairly by an ISP, it would have the opportunity to file a Part VII with the commission." The ISPs are wary of Yale’s lukewarm support for DOCSIS 1.1. The spectre of cablecos using technological upgrades as a weapon against their competition frightens the Internet providers. "We oppose CCTA’s request to permit the cable carriers to unilaterally change the minimal requirements in the future, e.g. to DOCSIS 2.0," Thomson writes on March 21. "We are concerned that the cable carriers would use such power as a strategic tool to increase costs for, and thereby thwart competition from, third-party ISPs." The CAIP president tells NL that he is worried the cable firms could use upgrades as a way of keeping competitors out. If a company is providing a customer with service set at a particular standard, it should be forced to offer that same standard to ISPs, he says. It would be anti-competitive for cablecos to force ISPs to use DOCSIS 2.0 if they were still offering DOCSIS 1.1 to a client. He still isn’t sure if the cablecos would be willing to negotiate standards upgrades. Neither side has broached the subject yet.