By Rahul Kalvapalle, Global News
Broadband Internet is a basic service that Canadians should have access to regardless of where they live, according to a landmark CRTC ruling that could change the face of Internet access in the country.
The telecom regulator also announced that it will establish a $100 million fund devoted to improving access to broadband Internet services. The fund will expand by $25 million annually over the next four years, with local telephone subsidies being re-routed to broadband Internet.
“Access to broadband Internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement. “We are doing our part to bring broadband services to rural and remote communities.”
The ruling also upped the CRTC’s targets for what constitutes basic Internet services “that Canadians need to participate in the digital economy” to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads. Target speeds established in 2011 were 5 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads.
Average speeds in Canada are 18.64 Mbps for downloads and 7.26 Mbps for uploads, according to a survey by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.
The CRTC also recommended that mobile Internet access be available in homes and businesses as well as along major roads.
The decision followed the regulator’s Review of Basic Telecommunications Services consultation, which previously noted Canadians are utilizing the Internet “for an increasing number of uses (including banking, education, health, government services, shopping, entertainment, and social networking), resulting in greater demand for faster speeds.”
Representatives of the digital rights advocacy group OpenMedia lauded the ruling.
“Canadians asked for universal Internet access, support for rural communities, world-class speeds, unlimited data options, and minimum guarantees for the quality of their Internet. And today, we won it all!” Josh Tabish, campaigns director for OpenMedia, said in an emailed statement. “With this ruling, the CRTC has finally listened to Canadians and agreed that residential and mobile Internet is a basic service required for modern life, as important as the telephone.”
— OpenMedia (@OpenMediaOrg) December 21, 2016
“For too long, rural and under served communities all across Canada have faced an uphill battle to participate meaningfully in our digital economy. Today’s decision will go a long way toward closing this digital divide. Now that the CRTC has spoken, we need to hold the Trudeau government accountable for ensuring this exciting vision becomes a reality.”
Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced last week that the government would be investing up to $500 million to bring high-speed Internet access to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021, as part of its “Connect to Innovate” program.
“By increasing access to high-speed Internet, the Connect to Innovate program enhances our rural and remote communities’ ability to innovate, participate in the digital economy and create jobs for middle-class families,” Bains said.
Twenty per cent of Canadian households did not subscribe to broadband Internet access at the end of 2013, according to a report by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.