One of the world’s major Internet service providers is about to take the next step and broaden its provisioning of broadband in this country. AOL Canada Inc., which already provides commercial broadband in British Columbia and Alberta, will soon roll it out in the rest of the country. Company president/CEO Craig Wallace tells Network Letter that the ISP is currently in discussions with several potential partners that would provide access. If all goes according to plan, AOL Canada will be offering broadband to its customers in Ontario and parts east by the summer. It has been providing access in the two westernmost provinces since last December. AOL Canada uses Telus Corp. as its access provider. Rollout in Manitoba and Saskatchewan will depend on which company becomes the eastern Canadian partner, Wallace explained. AOL Canada’s top executive, who has been in the job since last April, knows the consumer demand for broadband exists."The whole purpose of getting into the broadband initiative in the first place has really been about responding to the members’ input to us," he says. "We’re taking several hundred thousand phone calls and discussions several hundred thousand times a month from our members." The former head of the Residential Broadband Users’ Association is cautiously hopeful about the AOL move. Chris Weisdorf, who left the now-dormant group last year (NL, Dec. 16/02), says competition is needed. "If AOL adds to the mix, it’s obviously going to be beneficial in some way. It’s another choice, so that’s very helpful," he notes. "In terms of DSL competition, it depends where you live. If you live in the Ottawa core or Toronto core, you’re going to have more choice in terms of DSL services than you are if you live in a rural area. But in terms of cable, there is no choice. Whatever cable operator you have, you have to go with their service." One thing the subscribers do not want is to pay different rates depending on how much bandwidth they use. While other ISPs have adopted that approach (NL, Feb. 11/02), Wallace vows AOL Canada will not follow that path. "We’re not getting any input that our members are looking for tiered services," he reports. "So certainly our plan is not to tier our services and not to do bit rate caps or anything of that nature."Weisdorf maintains that AOL tends to appeal to the novice Internet user, who tend to concentrate on email and web browsing, so would be unaware of whatever tradeoffs AOL has to make in favour of faster speeds. "If the download speed is fast, they’re going to notice that. Otherwise they’re not going to notice packet loss, or latency or delay variation, anything like that, in terms of network performance parameters," he remarks. "AOL is going to pay attention to something like download speeds for that reason and neglect the other parameters." Weisdorf has heard anecdotal evidence from other computer aficionados that upwards of 95% of AOL subscribers download no more than three gigabytes a month. They use even less bandwidth for uploading. Until the final contract is signed with a provider, Wallace cannot give definite answers on some aspects of the new service. Pricing will be "competitive," he says, but no actual rate has been set. Nor can he say whether the access will be through DSL or cable modem. But that poses no problem, he maintains. "Obviously both present viable options for us," Wallace remarks. "I guess ultimately the direction we go will depend on which partner we end up with. To a large degree, quite frankly, we are technology agnostic." The new service will continue to have exclusive Canadian content, the AOL chief says. The company has partnership deals with dozens of content providers.