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Xplornet worries about impact of proposed spectrum changes for rural areas

WOODSTOCK, N.B. - One of the country's largest rural broadband service providers is claiming proposed spectrum changes could limit access to high-speed Internet access for rural Canadians and leave them disconnected.

Xplornet Communications Inc. says it's worried about the consultation process launched into policy changes in the 3500 MHz Band, which also looks at new licensing rules for rural areas.

"This announcement will take spectrum away from providers, like Xplornet, who deliver service today to Canadians outside cities and give it to the telcos for cellular phone use," Xplornet president Allison Lenehan said in a statement.

"If implemented, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will have their Internet disconnected and could be forced back onto dial-up."

Among areas of concern, Lenehan pointed to a proposal to declare large swaths of rural Canada to be urban areas and redesignate the spectrum currently being used for fixed wireless high-speed Internet in those areas as cellphone spectrum.

"People in those areas already have cellphone coverage, but under the proposal they would lose their home Internet connection as a consequence," he said.

The government said Tuesday that it wanted to repurpose the 3500 MHz spectrum in urban areas, which represents 36 per cent of the total spectrum licences available in the 3500 MHz band.

It also wants to fast-track the issuing of new licences for fixed wireless broadband in rural areas and introduce a first-come, first-served licensing process.

As as part of the previously-announced "use-it-or-lose-it" policy, service providers that have not deployed their spectrum to Canadians will not have their licences renewed.

The changes still have to go through a consultation process, which will include discussions with providers like Xplornet, the government said.

Xplornet immediately raised its concerns Tuesday, saying there were inconsistencies between the consultation document and they way Industry Canada spoke about the plan, and that it hoped the government would reconsider its proposal.

On Wednesday, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said it welcomed the consultations because it was important for the government to take steps to "get licences to actually provide service, or clear the way for other willing service providers" given that deployment using the 3.5 GHz spectrum has generally been low.

A spokesman for Industry Minister James Moore said wireless spectrum is a valuable public resource and that the government is responsible for allocating it in such a way that "benefits all Canadians."

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