Bell Canada want to use funds set aside as part of the price cap ruling (NL, June 18/02) to finance the rollout of broadband to unserved areas. The telecom giant would foot between 20% and 30% of the cost per line deployed, while the balance would come from the deferral account. The telco filed an application on December 2 with the CRTC seeking permission to do so. However, only regions that failed to receive funding under other programs would be eligible under Bell’s proposal. Under the plan, Bell would roll out high-speed Internet service in remote and rural areas that do not have broadband and have little chance of receiving it in the near term. "The proposed initiative would be complementary to existing government-funded initiatives in that it would only cover areas where high-speed broadband capability is not available and that are not also successful in obtaining funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure through those programs," Bob Farmer, Bell’s VP regulatory affairs, writes in the telco’s submission. The federal government is currently analyzing business plans for the second round of funding for its Broadband for Rural and Northern Development (BRAND) program. The winning entries should be announced next spring. The government also launched the National Satellite Initiative to serve regions in the far north. In Ontario, the provincial government offers funding for broadband deployment under the Connect Ontario: Broadband Regional Access (COBRA) initiative. Communities that have been rejected for funding under BRAND, COBRA and similar programs would then become eligible to participate in the Bell plan. Bell does not expect a huge boost in its Internet subscriber base should the proposal be approved."We would increase our footprint by about 2%, which is not enormous but given the government’s objective of complete access by 2005, which seems unlikely, and also the Ontario and Quebec governments want to do that as well, we think it’s a good use of the money that’s in the deferral account, which of course came from the customers in Ontario and Quebec as well," Lawson Hunter, executive VP of BCE Inc., explains to Network Letter. Not all of that business would necessarily go to Bell. In its filing to the CRTC, the telco says it will make wholesale ADSL service available to rival ISPs through third-party access. But key to rolling out the service is access to the deferral account because deployment costs in unserved areas are too onerous financially. The account has $195 million in it, half of which is targetted for other uses. "We will contribute what we would normally contribute in capital expenditures if we could commercially justify it, which tends to be $200-300 per line," Hunter states. "We think the average of the communities we’re talking about would be about $1,000, so we’re basically talking about the balance of it, because we’d put in that first commercial amount to get the rest of it rolling." Bell’s filing estimates that the annual disbursement from the deferral account would be in range of $25-35 million. The costs would be taken over a four-year period, even though the rollout of DSL would be done on a three-year basis. Hunter expects that entire communities would be connected under the Bell plan, not just key institutions like hospitals and schools. He estimates that the telco would be targeting up to 800 areas, with a special emphasis put on First Nations communities. Bell Canada expects that by the end of this year, its DSL footprint will cover 80% of the 10 million homes and business lines passed in its territory. Within three or four years, the commercial rollout will see that percentage increase to 90%. The telco does not plan any further commercial deployment of high-speed broadband.