Windsor internet provider says hydro pole cost could leave customers paying more, or not have service at all

The president of a Windsor internet service provider, who attaches their wires to hydro poles, believes a new proposed fee hike could leave people without service or having to pay more.

Fees could rise for internet, cable providers who attach wires to hydro poles

Clayton Zekelman, president of MNSi Telecom in Windsor, believes the proposed fee hike for third-party groups to attach wires to hydro poles could mean higher fees for those in rural areas. Or even worse, no service at all. (Rob Heydari/CBC)

The president of a Windsor internet service provider, who attaches their wires to hydro poles, believes a new proposed fee hike could leave people without service or having to pay more. 

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) wants to increase the fees for companies— such as internet and cable providers — who attach their wires to hydro poles. 

Clayton Zekelman is the president of MNSi Telecom, a company that has been providing internet services in Windsor-Essex for more than 20 years. He said there doesn't seem to be a rationale for the price hike.

"Prices for attachments to poles range anywhere from 16 dollars to the proposed 55 dollars that the OEB is looking at right now for Hydro One poles," he said. "We don't really understand why there is such a huge disparity."

Zekelman explained that in areas where there are fewer homes, it becomes too costly for internet services providers to justify building and maintaining infrastructure there. People in rural areas could have a hard time accessing high speed internet, or will have to pay more. 

"It may be the deciding factor to tell the broadband company they're just not going to deploy there because they just don't see how they're going to get a return in a reasonable amount of time," he said. 

Hydro poles also carry cable and internet wires, as well as electricity lines. (CBC)

Unfair access

SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, is a non-profit broadband initiative in southwestern Ontario looking at ways to bring affordable high-speed internet to more people in the province. In an emailed statement, SWIFT spokesperson Tammy McQueen said the fee hike will discourage telecom service providers from offering internet services in places that need it most.

"Ontario's rural, remote, and First Nation communities that already encounter substantial barriers to building and expanding broadband infrastructure networks would be placed at a further disadvantage," she said. "This translates into unequal access to education, healthcare, government, employment and marketplaces."

Some companies, like Bell Canada, have their own poles which they have reciprocal sharing agreements with the hydro companies on, said Zekelman. 

"These pole rate increases will not affect these companies, but they will affect companies and independent fibre operators because we are required to pay the third party pole attachment rate," he said, adding it gives pole-owning companies an advantage. 

The other issue that worries Zekelman is that the OEB has proposed deregulating the cap on these fees for third-parties, meaning it could get even more expensive. 

"The prices just seem to keep going up, particularly with Hydro One poles," he said.