The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has declared broadband internet a basic telecommunications service for all regions across Canada, and set new speed targets for internet and mobile services available to Canadians.
In a decision announced on Wednesday, CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said that current Canadian access and basic speeds “don’t cut it anymore” in the “data-hungry digital world” that we live in today. This verdict is quite a departure from the commission’s previous mandate, which focused on obtaining universal access for voice services like landline telephones.
“We are establishing as a universal service objective that Canadians – in rural and remote areas as well as in urban centres – should have access to voice services and broadband Internet access services on fixed and mobile wireless networks,” he said during his press conference.
Along with the decision, the CRTC has set new targets for carriers both fixed broadband services and mobile broadband services. For fixed Internet, the goal is a minimum speed of 50 megabits per second and 10 megabits per second for uploads – a “tenfold increase” from previous targets of 5 Mbps download/ 1Mbps upload from 2011. Currently, 82 per cent of Canadians already have access to 50/10 Mbps speeds from carriers in their communities, according to CRTC data. It wants that coverage increased to 90 per cent by 2021 and to 100 per cent within 10 to 15 years.
As for mobile services, the CRTC stressed improved access to mobile wireless technology “not only in homes and businesses, but also along major Canadian transportation corridors.”
Blais called on the country’s telecommunication providers to begin working towards improving internet access and speeds, particularly in remote areas.
“The availability of broadband Internet … is an issue that can’t be solved by the CRTC alone. All players in the Canadian communications landscape will need to do their part to ensure Canadians have access to the services they need to participate in the digital economy,” he said, adding that he would also like to see all levels of the government address the gaps in digital literacy, as well as affordability of internet packages.
At his press conference, Blais recognized that these increased speed targets were lofty expectations and would not be easy to obtain.
“The future of our economy, our prosperity and our society – indeed the future of every citizen – requires us to set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century,” he conceded. “Today’s decision signals a shift in our regulations for basic services from voice-related issues to broadband-related issues.”
Telecommunications expert Iain Grant, managing director of the Seaboard Group telecom consultancy, agreed.
“It seems like an ambitious plan,” said Grant. “Jean Pierre Blais certainly is a man of the current century. I think this is a good move. A bold decision that will no doubt have some service providers gnashing their teeth in frustration about the impossibility of it all.”
However, most of the major internet service providers support the decision, with David Watt, senior vice president of regulatory at Rogers, saying the company already offers speeds 20 times faster than the new targets and have unlimited [data] plans everywhere the company offers internet services.
“High-speed internet is a must for Canadians to connect with their friends, families and communities and participate in the digital economy. 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,” he said in a statement to IT World Canada.
Telus called the decision “important and complex”, but said it does share the CRTC’s view “that in order for Canadians to participate in the digital economy, they need access to high quality broadband.”
“This is why we have been investing billions of dollars year-after-year to increase both wireline and wireless Internet capacity in rural and urban communities across Canada, and recently introduced Internet for Good in B.C. and AB to ensure lower-income families have inexpensive access,” the company said.
The company said it has invested approximately $2.85 billion in new infrastructure this year alone, and will continue to invest so that by the end of 2019, it will have devoted about $46 billion to new infrastructure since 2000.
The CRTC will set up an investment fund of more than $750 million in the next five years (and on top of existing government programs) to support projects in areas that do not meet the new speed targets.