In an announcement yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that broadband internet access is now considered a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians, and has set the following targets for basic telecoms service provision across Canada:
· Fixed broadband internet access speeds of 50Mbps download/10Mbps upload
· an unlimited data option for fixed broadband access services
· the ‘latest’ mobile wireless technology available not only in homes and businesses, but also along major Canadian roads.
The CRTC also announced the establishment of a fund to support projects in areas that do not meet the above targets. Applicants will be able to submit funding proposals in order to build or upgrade infrastructure for fixed and mobile broadband internet access services.
The fund will:
· make available up to CAD750 million (USD560 million) over the first five years (over and above existing government programmes)
· be complementary to existing and future private investment and public funding
· focus on underserved areas
· be managed at arm’s length by a third party.
The CRTC is shifting its regulatory focus from wireline voice to broadband services. Currently there is a subsidy for residential local voice services in rural and remote areas that amounted to approximately CAD100 million in 2016; this local voice subsidy will now be transitioned to the new funding mechanism for broadband projects that meet the new targets.
The CRTC says that by the start of this year, 82% of Canadian households had access to speeds of 50Mbps download/10Mbps upload for fixed broadband services. Regarding the 18% of Canadian households lacking access at the target speeds, a report submitted by the CRTC to the Government of Canada’s Innovation Agenda (see link below) says that these homes are ‘typically located in rural communities or areas with relatively low population density, some of them near urban areas’. The report continues: ‘Many of these communities lack sufficient transport or access networks needed to provide them with broadband Internet services comparable to urban areas … this digital gap results in many Canadians not being able to effectively participate in the digital economy … Most First Nations communities are located in rural and remote areas. Several interveners pointed to demonstrable inequities between First Nations communities and other communities in Canada related to the availability of broadband Internet access services.’