A group of small, wireless Internet service providers (ISPs) formed a new organization to lobby the federal government for more spectrum for wireless Internet providers serving hard-to-reach rural communities, said Jonathan Black, treasurer of the new group.

In a telephone interview this week, Black said representatives of about 20 wireless ISPs met in Ottawa Monday for the first formal meeting of the group, called the Canadian Association of Wireless Internet Services Providers (CANWISP). They discussed an ongoing Industry Canada consultation on plans for spectrum in the 2300 MHz and 3500 MHz bands.

Industry Canada, in a consultation document in October, proposed that the 2300 MHz band be used for wireless communications services, including but not limited to broadband Internet, and the 3500 MHz band for fixed wireless services, which connect wirelessly to homes, as opposed to mobile devices, for broadband access.

The department said it would consider “revising both the spectrum utilization policy and the band plan for portions of the [2300 MHz] band” as well as revising the 3500 MHz band plan to better utilize mobile services.

Black said the Industry Canada consultation was a key factor in the ISPs’ decision to form CANWISP, and that the group began drafting a submission for the consultation at its inaugural meeting Monday.

“The first point of business was to organize,” said Black, also the chief financial officer of Ottawa-based ISP Storm Internet Services, which offers wireless services. “The second point was to begin working on our first Industry Canada response, so we’ve put a plan in motion for that.”

Black estimated there are about 100 wireless ISPs serving rural and remote communities across the country and that most of them have no more than 10 employees and between 1,000 and 1,500 customers. Some initial members of CANWISP include NETAGO, from Alberta, Groupe-Acces Communications, from Quebec, and Ontario ISPs NorthWind Wireless Inc. and Rural Wave, he said.

“These are guys who couldn’t get high-speed Internet at their house, so they figured out how to do it, and then their neighbour said, ‘I want it too,’” he said. “Some of these guys have [now] grown to a significant size.”

Black said many of the group’s members are concerned that rising demand for bandwidth will place excessive stress on the spectrum they now have for wireless Internet services, which includes “lightly-licensed” spectrum in the 3650 MHz band and unlicensed spectrum in 900 MHz, 2400 MHz and 5800 MHz bands.

He said the wireless ISPs do not have the necessary financing to compete head-to-head with large service providers, such as BCE Inc.Rogers Communications Inc., and Telus Corp., in an auction for spectrum, such as those planned for the 700 MHz and 2500 MHz bands.

“We’re willing to pay a fee, but not, frankly, what Bell and Rogers and Telus can afford to pay,” he said.

Black said there is no “imminent danger” that wireless ISPs’ current spectrum holdings cannot handle customer demand, though that danger would become a reality over the next decade if more spectrum is not dedicated to wireless Internet.

Capacity issues on the ISPs’ wireless networks could lead to slower speeds and less reliable service for the member companies’ mostly rural subscribers, he said.

He said CANWISP decided to lobby for spectrum in the Industry Canada consultation because the department is likely to licence the spectrum for 10 years.

“There’s no imminent danger to the wireless ISP business, but when Industry Canada lets the licence go for 10 years or more, we need to be looking out 10 years,” he said. “When we look out ten years, we saw we need more spectrum to be able to offer the kind of services that rural Canadians will expect. It’s an issue of speed, of reliability, of quality of service.”

Wayne Stacey, a broadcasting spectrum consultant with Wayne A. Stacey & Associates in Ottawa, said several organizations and companies will be lobbying the government for different spectrum uses in the 2300 MHz and 3500 MHz bands.

“There will be some that want to retain what they’ve got and make sure nobody else interferes with them, and there will be others that will be looking for additional allocations,” he said. “So this is being considered by most of the users that operate in that range right now.”

Stacey said the Radio Advisory Board of Canada (RABC) has formed a working group of users interested in obtaining access to the spectrum.

That group, he said, will attempt to find consensus among groups and companies on how the spectrum should be allocated and can serve as a forum to present different points of view.

“The department likes to work with the RABC because it represents all the users,” he said. “At the end of the day, all of these parties are free themselves in the consultation process to make their own, independent submissions to the department themselves.”

—With reporting by Nicholas Kyonka at nkyonka@thewirereport.ca and editing by Simon Doyle at sdoyle@thewirereport.ca