In a report to the Minister of Industry, the National Broadband Task Force has recommended a review of foreign ownership regulations governing cable and satellite service providers.
According to David Johnston, chair of the task force and president of the University of Waterloo, in the report titled The New National Dream: Networking the Nation for Broadband Access, it was not recommended that the regulations necessarily be changed by the government, only reviewed, due to the fact that members of the task force are themselves divided on the issue.
“We simply recommended the government review its foreign ownership restrictions for telecom and cable carriers…with a view to possibly opening up larger pools of capital and making capital more accessible to provide for the investment necessary to extend broadband,” Johnston said.
The task force, with 35 members from across the country, first convened in January to discuss and make recommendations on how to best roll out broadband Internet access to all Canadian communities by 2004. It submitted its report to Minister Brian Tobin on June 18. In its report, it concluded that all Canadians should have equitable and affordable access to broadband services; that there should be a focus on communities to which the private sector is unlikely to deliver services; that public institutions and First Nation, Inuit, rural and remote communities should be a priority; and that the investments necessary to roll out broadband nationwide vary considerably. The task force also noted that the concept of accessibility also includes providing content and services.
Johnston predicted 75 per cent of the Canadian population will have access to broadband Internet services by 2004, “but to reach the remaining one-quarter, which are communities in more remote areas and small towns and villages, as was the case with the railroad, as was the case with the telephone, there will be a requirement of some public support in combination with the private sector to do the link-up.” He estimated that all levels of government would have to invest a total of $1.5 billion, as well as get funding from the private sector, to meet the 2004 deadline.
“It’s a very worthwhile investment,” Johnston said.
According to Jay Thomson, president of Ottawa-based Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), one thing standing in the way of opening up broadband to the whole country is the lack of competition in the Internet-over-cable market.
“It must be made open to third-party access,” Thomson said. “That’s an important principle, and one that we’ve pushed for and certainly support.” In a statement issued in response to the task force’s report, CAIP said Canadian communities will only benefit from broadband Internet services if they have a choice of service providers. Thomson accused the cable companies of being uncooperative in terms of opening up their networks to independent service providers.
Both Johnston and Thomson agreed that working towards connecting all communities to broadband Internet services
is as important today as the transcontinental railroad was during its time.
According to Iain Grant, managing director of The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont., connecting public institutions, such as schools and libraries, is an important endeavour, but it’s not a necessity to make broadband access available to every home in Canada.
“I don’t necessarily think that our hard-earned tax dollars should be sent to promote the expansion of infrastructure [where it] doesn’t make sense to [deploy] it,” Grant said. He added that the Province of Saskatchewan has already initiated a plan to offer broadband Internet to all corners of the province.
Looking at the enormous cost to roll out broadband Internet to the hinterlands, Grant said there are cheaper and more efficient means to offering high-speed Internet services. A satellite-based system would be much cheaper than wiring everyone for cable or DSL, he said.
For more information about the National Broadband Task Force and its report, visit broadband.gc.ca.