Geography, Politics Feed Canadian Internet Growth
Net use is exploding in Canada, as its government touts the social benefits of an "electronic highway"
f you think the infobahn is a largely American phenomenon, think again. Can any state or federal government in the lower 48 boast a Minister of State for the Electronic Information Highway? Canada can.
The Internet is very much a part of Canada's electronic landscape, and its surging popularity appears to be mirroring a similar phenomenon in the United States.
"There has been a marked increase over the last year, an explosive growth," said Shirley-Ann George, executive director of the Canadian Advanced Technology Association, a 400-member high-tech trade group.
The Nets' popularity up North can be ascribed to technological, geographical and political factors.
Canada is a world leader in the science of telephonic data transmission, home to cutting-edge companies like Newbridge Networks and Northern Telecom.
A medium that allows high-speed transmission of data is particularly attractive in a country larger than the United States, but with only one-tenth its population.
With pockets of businesses and individuals scattered from New Brunswick to British Columbia, the Net makes good business sense. "Technology can make distance a non-issue," said George.
Meanwhile, provinces like New Bruns-wick are heavily promoting the benefits of worldwide interconnectivity to its business communities.
Georges Corriveau, who in January became the Maritime Province's first Infobahn Minister, oversees New Brunswick's efforts to create a favorable climate for Internet use by the local business community.
"We want to be a net exporter on the information highway, rather than a buyer of services," said Danny Keizer, a senior technical advisor to Corriveau.
Keizer said New Brunswick already boasts one of Canada's most sophisticated telecommunications infrastructures.
NB*Net, the province's leading Internet provider, is operated by the local carrier, and allows companies in New Brunswick to conduct business with far-flung Asian entrep?ts like Singapore.
Keizer said the two chief sources of Internet access in Canada are common carriers and CA*net, a not-for-profit university network similar to NSFnet, but is open to commercial use as well. CA*net, he said, is made up of regional Internet access providers like NB*Net, and provides connectivity to NSFnet and beyond.
NSTN Inc. which heralds itself as "Canada's Internet Navigator," is Canada's oldest commercial Internet provider. After five years in business, the Nova Scotia company has put some 30,000 users on the infobahn, from large corporate users to small businesses.
"Business is just explosive," said Michael Dow, vice president of marketing for NSTN, which also offers customers virtual private computer networks, information service delivery, network management and support, and systems integration services.
NSTN's services are based on its Nova Scotia Technology Network, which offers Internet access via its affiliation with CA*net. The company, a member of the Software Kinetics group, is also installing additional nodes to blanket Canada with its network in order to compete in a fast-moving market.
"It's an intensely competitive industry, from people operating out of their basements to very large organizations," said Dow. American providers, like PSI and UUnet, he added, are also pushing into the Canadian market, but with operations confined largely to metropolitan Toronto.
A meeting of CA*net's board last week, Dow said, will ensure the creation of a truly pan-Canadian network. Currently, Commercial Canadian Internet providers not part of CA*net must route their traffic south to the United States and back again to hook into the network.
But by year- end, CA*net will establish an Internet exchange allowing all commercial providers to plug directly into its network.
NATIONAL INTERNET PROVIDERS
Performance Systems International Inc. (PSI)
Headquarters: Herndon, Va.
Price range: $29/month (individual) to
$400/month (lease line)
Points of presence (hubs) in the U.S.: 80
NetCom On-Line Communications Services Inc.
Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.
Price range: $17.50/month (individual) to
$1,000/month (T1 connection)
Points of presence (hubs) in the U.S.: 32
UUNet Technologies Inc.
Headquarters: Falls Church, Va.
Price range: $20/month (individual) to
$2,000/month (T1 connection)
Points of presence (hubs) in the U.S.: 15
Delphi Internet Services Corp.
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
Support: (800) 695-4005
Price range: $10/month (4 hours usage free, $4 an hour thereafter); $20/month (10 hours free, $1.80 per hour thereafter); these costs plus SpintNet or Tymnet connections costs.