Up to carriers to help poor get PCs, says CRTC head

The federal telecommunications regulator can’t help bring computers to poor families, the head of the agency has told a conference.

 “It think its incumbent on the [wired and wireless] carriers in Canada to take on that initiative … and start to work towards creating an opportunity for those people who may be underprivileged,” Leonard Katz, acting chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) told the Canadian Telecom Summit on Tuesday in Toronto.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission has turned from encouraging carriers to bring broadband to rural communities to finding ways to bring PCs to the estimated 68 per cent of American homes that don’t have computers.

Recently it backed an initiative from U.S. cable companies to get used PCs to homes and offer them a low-cost monthly Internet access package.

Organizers of the summit, an annual industry conference, have for the past year urged the telecom industry and government to partner on a similar solution.

Katz noted that 83 per cent of Canadian homes have PCs, significantly better than the U.S. Still, while expanding PC ownership and access is worthwhile, he said it’s not within the scope of the CRTC.

“I don’t think its incumbent on a regulator who does not have any money ourselves. We have no money to give out. We can take money from one stakeholder (carrier) and give to another, but there has to be a good and valid reason to take monies from a publicly- traded company or a private entrepreneur and move it across the board to somebody else.”

Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, one of the conference organizers who has been vocal on getting PCs to the poor and getting them online, said in an interview he isn’t disappointed with Katz’s remarks. “I wouldn’t have expected the CRTC to intervene,” he said.

He has been speaking with carriers here with the message that it’s not a matter of getting involved for charity, but because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Some carriers are actively studying ways to do it, he said. However, there are logistics to be worked out, such as ensuring there’s an adequate supply of PCs.

Katz was speaking at a one-on-one session with conference co-organizer Michael Sone, who heads a telecom market research firm.

Under the cable plan in the U.S., families that are on a federal program can get a PC for US$149 and monthly cable internet access for US$9.99.
Katz also said something that might surprise most Canadians: on average they pay less for  some wired and wireless services than Americans.

According to a soon-to-be-published commission report, the average Canadian wireless consumer who uses 450 voice minutes a month (voice) pays 30 per cent less than a person in the U.S., and on average 31 per cent less for wireless data

On Internet/wireless/local phone bundles, Canadians pay 27 per cent less ($175 a month versus $241) than Americans, he said.

The CRTC doesn’t regulate wireless or cable rates.

Overall, Katz was complimentary to the industry. “Canada has the most connected infrastructure probably  in the world,” he said. In 2010 the commission hoped that by 2015 eveyone in the country would have access to an Internet service offering download speeds of at least 5 Mbps. Today 88 per cent of Canadian residences have that, while 76 per cent have access to providers offering up to 50 Mbps.

“We are on the right track”

Forty-five per cent of Canadians are within range of a carrier that offers the latest LTE high speed wireless data technology, which Katz called “phenomenal” considering the size of the country and that carriers have only been offering LTE since last summer.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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