Telecom Ottawa sold to private provider

Well, for those fans of the "last mile" concept, here is one more dream you can say good bye to. This week, Hydro Ottawa announced that it had approved a bid to sell off its fibre-optic network to a private Internet company, Atria Networks LP.

Telecom Ottawa, one of the largest North American municipal networks providing high-speed net access, provides Internet to businesses, government buildings and municipal institutions such as schools. According to a press release, the Ottawa telecom system provides "95 per cent of Ottawa's MUSH sector (minipalities, universities, schools and hospitals)" with Web access.

According to a press release from Feb. 25, Hydro Ottawa Holding Inc. "reached a definitive agreement" to sell the company and its 4,250 kilometres of fibre for $63 million to Atria. The deal will likely be complete be early 2008.

The idea of a municipality carrying so much fibre with the ability to compete with private web providers such as Rogers or Bell for local business, and to -- most importantly-- provide the physical last stretch of wire from your computer to the network ("the last mile") has been dubbed by some as a true chance at protecting net neutrality on a local level.

A system with a municapally-owned last mile could provide service and billing similar to how one pays for gas - the gas companies don't own the pipe, but compete to be the one you send your monthly cheque to.

This puts power into the hands of the consumer, creates competition, alows for regulation, and ideally would limit or prevent the darker behaviours of the big guy(s) bringing us the web, such as blocking access to sites, or curbing streaming of video or music files.

Interestingly, to me, the CBC picked up on the story, yet only quoted from the pre-fabricated press release:

Read it to see Mayor O'Brien and all the companies involved pat themselves on the back over a good deal. But what I want to see is some smart debate about what this deal could mean for freedom of information and "Freeness" and neutrality of Internet service.