The debate on providing rural and remote Canadians with broadband should not be focused on transport and access, but rather on services. That was one of the key messages delivered during the opening session of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel’s Access Forum in Whitehorse on September 9.  Offering a U.S. point of view was Andrew Cohill, president and CEO of Design Nine, a telecommunications project management company based in Virginia. He said during the session on Main Access Challenges in Remote and Rural Areas, the broadband conversation should begin with a definition of what is required to deliver the types of services rural and remote Canadians require. The answer is quite simple, he added.  "The reason I think this is really simple is we need to define the end point, we need to define where we want to go rather than the starting point. I think the minimum end point is 100 Megabytes symmetrical bandwidth to every home and business in Canada, period," he stated, causing many in attendance to raise their fists in support. "If you can guarantee 100 Megabytes symmetrical access to every home and business in the country, then you can handle tele-health, you can handle video conferencing, you can handle all kinds of enriched multimedia, you can handle gaming, you can handle video-on-demand, you can handle web browsing, you can handle any service you want to deliver."  Getting to this level of bandwidth requires the participation of all stakeholders, including the communities, the private sector and the various levels of government, he said, adding it’s similar to road building of the early 20th century. "If we look at road building the same way we are looking at telecommunications, particularly in the United States, we’d be telling UPS and FedEx that they each have to build their own roads to deliver packages to a home or a business… Unfortunately that’s what we’re doing in the United States today with respect to telecommunications; each company that wants to play in the marketplace has to build their own road. So, we need a certain amount of community level infrastructure that is not going to compete with the delivery of services, but rather is going to facilitate and enhance the ability of private sector companies to deliver services and make money."  Susanna Reardon, a senior account director for Alcatel Canada Inc., explained that based on her experience the transport part of the network – the connection from the community point of presence back to the backbone – is the most difficult issue to solve. "Broadband access to the remote communities in British Columbia boils down to transport," she said.  Compounding the problem is a lack of available infrastructure such as roads or power poles going into these communities, she explained, making it that much more difficult to get the transport part of the network where it needs to go. There are cases where communities are served by microwave, but for the most part these towers are already full with existing infrastructure leaving little room for more equipment "to facilitate building bandwidth into the community."  Citing the example of one community, Reardon highlighted the problem facing rural areas. The price tag to deploy a transport network to the community cost upwards of $2 million to serve four locations with approximately 600 households in aggregate. As a result, the community "never got past the transport part of their business case," she said. Even where a transport network was available there were issues, but the problems didn’t have to do with access, noted Reardon. "Once we got the access and we got the transport, we found we spent a lot of time dealing with the communities talking about the of the business case. It was quite a concern to see so many communities not understanding what it takes to operate these networks… So, it did create for us a lot of questions around sustainability of the business," she explained. Reardon made two recommendations. Community aggregation would go a long way in easing the pain of deploying transport networks because the communities could share the cost of deployment. Pooling technical resources among the aggregated communities would help solve network sustainability issues. Brian Beaton, coordinator of K-Net, a non-profit network operator in Sioux Lookout ON, noted that communities do bear some responsibility for getting broadband, and that there needs to be a community champion, but he focused many of his comments on the need for equitable access to bandwidth. Broadband access should be considered an essential service for rural and remote communities, he added.  Open access to networks is an important piece of the future-policy puzzle, he said. "I think an open access policy, especially in rural and remote communities, is essential because we only have one transport network into these communities and having open access to that is essential. It’s the only way to sustain ," he added.  Beaton also pointed a finger at the lack of funding available for rural and remote community network builds. There is an insufficient amount available, he added.  "We need equitable access and that requires 100% funding in terms of being able to deliver these services in these communities. It is inappropriate to be subsidizing corporate infrastructure builds, like roads and things like that using public dollars, and then expecting small communities to be able to come up with 50%, or even a third of the dollars. It needs to be a lot more…We’ve had to pay corporations – in our area it’s Bell Canada – 100%. They get 100% of the dollars to do the and then they own it, they sell it, and we’re left having to deal with that. So, these kinds of realities need to be appreciated by the decision-makers, by government," he stated.  Network Letter will have a more in-depth look at policy issues affecting broadband deployment in an upcoming issue.  NL affiliate publication Report on Wireless will present information on last mile solutions in an upcoming issue.