I recently met with John Maduri, who is now heading up a company with a rather unique approach to rural broadband, Barrett Xplore.
What’s unique? He isn’t looking for a government handout. He hasn’t gone to government agencies saying ‘Give me $$$ and I’ll deliver broadband to the unwashed, underserved, your down-trodden.’ Instead, Barrett is delivering a 99.99% available, city-quality broadband experience to anyone in Canada who wants it, no matter where they live or work.
What Barrett Xplore has done is built a viable business plan that uses various solutions, including Motorola Canopy technology where appropriate or Telesat Ka-band in other areas. They are actually adding customers at a respectable clip, with reasonable prices, and a positive NPV. The entire country is within their potential serving area.
Unfortunately, the CRTC’s Deferral Account Decision has created problems for Barrett. That Decision told the incumbent telephone companies that they could and should use excess payments (that subscribers made to prop up local rates in urban areas) to subsidize the incumbent broadband roll-out to rural areas. It was a Robin Hood decision – taking money from one group to give to another. Bell has appealed a part of the Decision to the courts; we can expect to see an appeal (or more) to Federal Cabinet in the next few weeks.
With the best of intentions, it seems that whenever we see these kinds of programs, there are problems. As I mentioned in my post about ICT Toronto, it just seems that we need to avoid trying to pick winners and we need to resist the temptation to intervene in the market. Like it or not, rightly or wrongly, Decision 2006-9 made it tougher for John and his venture to go out and compete. And it was all with the best of intentions by everyone concerned.
I’d like to think that we should be clearing out of the way of entrepreneurial ventures like Barrett Xplore, not putting obstacles in their way. Hopefully, John and Barrett Xplore will be able to look back at this as just a speed-bump, not a barricade, as they continue to bridge the digital divide.