Canada’s telecom regulator yesterday declared that broadband Internet must be considered “a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians” and created a fund to connect rural and remote communities. With this decision, high-speed broadband is now treated as an essential technology similar to voice service.
All Canadians should be able to purchase home Internet with 50Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps uploads, and they should have the option of purchasing unlimited data, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcement said. A new fund will make $750 million available over the next five years to support projects in areas where that level of broadband isn’t available.
Money will be distributed to applicants based upon a competitive process. Funding can be used either for fixed broadband service or to upgrade mobile networks, but the goals of 50Mbps/10Mbps and unlimited data for all is specifically for home Internet service. About 10 percent will be allocated to communities that are dependent on satellite access.
Currently, about 18 percent of Canadians, representing 2 million households, don’t have access to 50Mbps/10Mbps service. “The CRTC’s goal is to reduce that to 10 per cent by 2021 and down to zero in the next 10 to 15 years,” a CBC article said.
The fund was created by shifting current subsidies for voice service to broadband. Telecoms “used to pay 0.53 percent of their revenues, excluding broadband, into that fund. Now they’ll pay the same rate on all revenues, including broadband,” the CBC reported.
The CRTC’s decision does not set any targets for affordability, as the agency is hoping to make service affordable through market forces. (But as some readers noted in the comments on this story, the CRTC already requires wholesale access for competitors and sets wholesale access rates, which has the effect of boosting competition and keeping retail prices lower than they would otherwise be.)
Rogers Communications, a large Canadian telco, told the CBC that it already offers unlimited data and speeds 20 times faster than the CRTC’s target in its whole service area. “While there are still many details to be worked out, we are encouraged by this reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard to reach areas of our country,” said Rogers Senior VP of Regulatory Affairs David Watt.
Bell Canada said only that it is “reviewing the decision,” according to CTV News.
OpenMedia, a nonprofit advocacy group, hailed the decision, calling it “a game-changer for rural and underserved communities across Canada where Internet access is either unavailable or unaffordable.”
The CRTC decision comes in addition to a federal government plan to spend $500 million over five years improving backbone infrastructure, mostly to boost access for schools and hospitals.
OpenMedia Campaign Director Josh Tabish pointed out that the United States faces similar challenges in bringing broadband to rural and remote communities. “These challenges can be surmounted, but it will take real political will to do so,” Tabish said in a press release, asking whether President-elect Donald Trump “really want[s] to see the US fall behind its neighbor to the north.”