The concept of providing fibre to every home is still an ideal in the telecom world, but costs still have to come down substantially before it is a viable project. The development of alternative technologies, such as power line communications, may mean that deployment options have to be scaled back. Many smaller communities across the country have experimented with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), and while all agree it will be a boon for the telecom industry when it is ready for prime time, some wonder how long that will take. "I think five years it would be viable," John Jeza, executive VP of utel Greater Sudbury Telecommunications Inc., tells Network Letter. "I think you’d see starting off in three years." That’s a more optimistic view than that held by some others in the field. Eileen Odom, president of national operations for U.S. telco Verizon Communications Inc., recently told the American publication Telephony Online, "Fibre to the premises is a big-ticket item. Even with an aggressive deployment, we’re still talking about a 10-year plan." Jeza says Greater Sudbury Telecom has already conducted experiments in the northern Ontario community. It did trials in a few homes in the Sudbury area, offering free installation and high-speed Internet. The response was immediate. "They loved the performance. It’s symmetrical service and you have nobody else on the circuit. It’s not a shared medium like a cable modem or anything like that," Jeza reports. "So from that perspective, our experience has been once you have these customers hooked up, you never have to talk to them again. Of course we don’t put any download limitations on people, because you don’t see it on the network. It’s so fast that you just don’t see it." Installing a network can be an expensive proposition, he finds. Jeza also wonders about what to offer customers. "It’s not necessarily the fibre, because fibre’s pretty cheap. The prices have just dropped out of the bottom. It’s the electronics that really have sort of held it up. And secondly, where are the applications that are there to drive the market space?" Another community that has adopted an FTTH system, this one more successfully, is Dawson City YT. It initially rolled out a community-owned network in 1999 and upgraded the system two years ago. More than 1,000 different buildings are connected. Every resident and every business in the northern community is wired onto the grid. The rollout of the network was backed by popular opinion. The city held a referendum asking for the right to borrow money to set up the system. The fact that Dawson City was not dipping into tax coffers to pay for the network proved to be a good selling point, as voters endorsed the proposal. The man who spearheaded the drive is proud of the services now available. "We have cable television that runs on it and we have high-speed Internet that runs on the system right now," Mayor Glen Everitt explains to NL. "We can do fire alarm monitoring through it. It has the potential to be turned into a local phone line for telephone and camera, to be able to broadcast live around town. So we can broadcast live right to the Internet any events." Dawson City charges $40 a month for high-speed Internet, with rental of a modem costing an extra $10. (Customers have the option of buying their own modems.) Cable television, offering 30 channels, is priced at $29 per month. Cable and Internet are bundled together for $59.95 a month, the mayor reports. Dawson City’s Internet service is the more popular choice and the city hopes to expand its client list soon. "We hold the majority of the Internet customers by far," Everitt says. "Government negotiated private deals with Northwestel, of course to be anchor tenants for Northwestel, which was unfortunate, but we’re looking forward to that agreement ending next year and the city gets an opportunity to bid to provide the service." Currently, the only telecom carrier operating in the area is Northwestel. Everitt is eager to provide telephony, if only to exact revenge on the Bell Canada subsidiary. "We are discussing it because of who our competitor is, which pisses us off, because they are very predatory," he charges. "There’s always games being played, with our bandwidth being shrunk. Because we have to buy bandwidth from Northwestel to get out of the community and suddenly our system will slow itself down and theirs will speed up. So there’s all these little games happening." Dawson City is exploring what regulatory routes it can use to battle Northwestel. Everitt says a complaint has been filed with the CRTC and the city is talking with Industry Canada about a remedy. It has also asked the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for advice. Jeza doesn’t imagine he’d have the same problem in Sudbury, since telcos don’t have the infrastructure in his area. But he does concede that the phone companies would aggressively market their bundled packages, a strategy they have promoted for years. That means Greater Sudbury Telecom must be ready to do battle on the marketing side. "What else do I have to offer the residents and potential user for service that I can actually bundle? Is it video-on-demand; is that a service that’s coming up?" he asks. "I’d probably offer voice-over-IP and some sort of long distance calling, which will start to get them to call into Toronto for virtually free." Jeza reports that some companies in the Sudbury area are inquiring about fibre services such as VoIP and video-on-demand. But satisfying that demand is difficult. "It becomes a chicken-and-egg sort of thing. I’d love to offer the service, but I don’t have fibre into the home. It is still expensive. So what drives what, right?" he says, suggesting a business model that could work. "You’d probably look at multi-dwelling units first, as an alternative. But again, anybody who’s going to buy a video-on-demand server, and it’s going to cost them $100,000, is going to want a guarantee of more than 200 or 300 units to make his money back." Jeza has high hopes for power line communications (PLC), an emerging technology gaining support in the utility telecom market (NL, Mar. 11/03). With PLC, telecom services are carried over electricity wires rather than cable. Current standards do not permit the carriage of Internet, voice and video, but PLC proponents expect improvements to the technology soon. Helping the PLC cause is a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States that approved rollout of the system. That decision effectively dismisses any telco concerns about PLC deployment. A conference of FTTH, exploring technology, business, and fibre issues, is being held in New Orleans this October. (For more information on the gathering, see the Calendar section of the Decima Publishing web site.) Rollout of PLC could hasten the deployment of fibre, Jeza believes. While fibre-to-the-home is the ideal, carriers may instead opt for fibre-to-the-neighbourhood and then complete the last mile using PLC.