CRTC Declares Broadband Internet Access a Basic Telecommunications Service – How Communities Can Benefit

Griping about a slow internet connection has become the unofficial pastime of rural Canadians. But a recent CRTC decision may improve this state of affairs. In December 2016, the commission ruled that residential fixed broadband and mobile broadband internet access are basic telecommunications services—equal in importance to the landline telephone of the 20th century. The commission’s universal service objective now mandates that Canadians in urban, rural, and remote areas receive broadband internet access services on both fixed and mobile wireless networks. In reaching its decision, the CRTC acknowledged that broadband is necessary for Canadians to access basic services and participate in the modern digital economy.

The commission has stated that residential and business internet access subscribers should have access to speeds of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, with an option for unlimited data packages on fixed broadband connections. The CRTC did not venture into the territory of rate regulation for these services, leaving pricing to market forces. However, in addressing the issue of affordability (particularly for low-income subscribers), the CRTC says it supports a multi-faceted approach to connectivity. It is encouraging community groups, governments and local ISPs to work together to build functional solutions.

The decision to extend the basic service objective to include broadband means the CRTC will phase out the subsidy regime that currently supports telephony service. This signals a change in the CRTC’s overall regulatory focus from wireline voice to broadband internet access.

These funds will instead be used to establish a mechanism to improve the broadband rollout in Canada. This rollout will be funded by telecoms companies, who will be required to commit $200 million/year by year five (5) of the plan. The exact details of how the broadband funding will be allocated will be discussed at an upcoming consultation. So far, we know that:

  • the fund will be administered by an arm’s-length third-party and overseen by a fairness monitor;

  • it will focus on underserved areas;

  • disbursements will be awarded in a competitive process;

  • applicants must demonstrate that projects would not be possible without support from the fund;

  • in order to qualify for disbursements from the fund, applicants must also receive a minimum level of financial support from a government entity, community organization, or non-profit;

  • and up to 10% will be allocated to satellite-dependent communities.

This funding mechanism will exist separate from—and in order to complement—existing and future investments of various levels of government, such as the $500 million earmarked by the federal government to facilitate rural backbone network infrastructure.

How to get involved

Municipalities, community groups, and rural ISPs who stand to benefit from the revamped contribution fund should consider participating in the upcoming consultation in order to help shape the criteria for eligibility. (Details of the consultation will be posted on the CRTC site shortly). Depending on the details of implementation, the contribution fund could present local governments with an opportunity to bring constituents up to speed with the latest in affordable and reliable internet. The CRTC has called on all levels of government to address current gaps in digital literacy, so that all Canadians can be better prepared to take advantage of the digital tools at their disposal.

Cybera intends to participate in the upcoming consultation, drawing from our experiences with networking in Alberta. Our goal is to ensure that local municipalities, not-for-profits, and ISPs are best able to leverage the contribution fund.

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