Richmond resident launches independent internet company amid rate fight

A Richmond resident who spent nearly two decades working for a telecom giant is now aiming to lower internet rates for British Columbians.

Internet rates have been under the spotlight for several years, after Canada’s telecom regulator slashed wholesale internet prices, only to reverse that decision two years later.

Jason Speers, who launched Babbl Communications last year with premium home internet service in Richmond, Nanaimo and Parksville, pointed out there is a “lack of choice” in Western Canada when it comes to internet service providers.

“I was searching for what to do next, and really, the lightbulb went off… And as I dug more and more and more into it, there really isn’t much of a presence (of independent internet providers) here,” he said .

“So, it became the point – the driving force — what Western Canadian are paying very, very high prices for, really, an essential service. And if I can come in and essentially change that for the better for the average Canadian, that’s pretty exciting.”

Earlier this month, Babbl expanded its service area, which now runs from Campbell River down to Victoria and from Whistler to Chilliwack,

As a third-party internet service provider, Babbl purchases access to existing networks owned by larger telecoms companies at wholesale rates, and then creates its own connection to the internet.

However, those wholesale rates – set by Canada’s telecom regulator – are what determine the retail prices Canadians pay for internet service.

In 2019, after several years of review, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ordered those wholesale rates to be lowered as it looked to increase competition among internet providers.

But the CRTC flip-flopped on that move in May 2021 – a decision that was a victory for Canada’s large telecoms.

The regulator said it made errors when it ordered major phone and cable companies to slash many of their wholesale internet rates, meaning the rates set in 2016 remained in effect.

“So, for a five-year period, essentially nothing changed with these wholesale rates… And during that five-year period, Canadians continued to pay some of the highest prices for their internet service, because there was no opportunity for more competition,” Speers said.

The reversed CRTC decision is now under appeal in federal court, and in front of a federal parliamentary committee.

While he built a model to operate in the “current environment,” Speers said he hopes wholesale prices will be lowered – which will reduce costs for the average Canadian and help pave the way for more competition in the market.

“We’re coming out of the pandemic. Inflation is rising or is at a higher level than it has been in many years. The cost of living is increasing. I don’t see the major telecom companies coming in and saying, let us help you and reduce your bills by any means,” he said.

“But a company like mine can help the average consumer…it shouldn’t have to cost you more money for your telecom, your internet services. And your internet service, it’s an essential item.”

Speers said the savings with Babbl can be between 15 to 25 per cent from what’s currently in the market.

Babble is built on a model of simplicity, said Speers, and is entirely digital – meaning there’s no call centres, technicians, or fleets of vehicles, and therefore, none of the high costs that larger telecoms may have.

Once people order the internet service online, the modem is activated and shipped via courier, and is “plug and play.”

Billing is clear and online, he said, and Babbl also provides an online FAQ to help customers troubleshoot issues on their own.

–With files from the Canadian Press

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