In 2008 Ottawa pulled in over $4 billion from the AWS/PCS spectrum auction, which promptly disappeared into the government’s general revenues.
A Senate committee has a better idea: Spend all spectrum auction funds Industry Canada raises on spreading broadband Internet access to remote and rural areas of the country.
In addition, the committee says the government should axe the requirement of current spectrum licence holders to spend 2 per cent of their revenue on research and development and instead redirect the money for deploying broadband unserved areas.
Those are two of 18 recommendations the transport and communications committee made Wednesday as part of a report called a Plan For a Digital Canada.
The Harper government has set already aside $225 million over three years to support service providers that bring broadband to these areas. The first projects were announced last month.
However, the committee chair has backtracked on one of the recommendations. In an interview with Network World Canada on Thursday, Quebec Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson said the report shouldn’t have said all spectrum auction money should go for rural access. “If that was the word used that was a mistake,” he said.
What the committee meant to say, he said, was that auction money should go to things like improving the digital literacy of Canadians as well as extending broadband to remote areas. He said the committee also wanted to point out the discrepancy between the government pulling in $4.2 billion in the last auction and allocating only $225 million for rural broadband extension.
Bernard Lord, CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which represents wireless carriers, said his group hasn’t discussed how much spectrum auction funds should go to closing the digital divide between rural and urban Canadians. However, he did say the group would have no problem if some of the money is used that way.
He felt the most important recommendations would result in fairer pricing in spectrum auctions – incumbents felt the rules in the 2008 auction grossly inflated prices -- and in the reduction of the annual $130 million in licence fees carriers pay Industry Canada.
Among the recommendations is that the government appoint a Minister for Digital Policy to implement “a strategy for an inclusive digital society” to bring “essential digital services” – including health, education or other online services, whether provided by the public or private sector – to every resident of the country.
While the Industry minister has responsibilities for such policies now, the digital policy minister would take that away.