The future of Internet access in Canada takes centre stage this week at a major hearing focused on whether it’s time to update the rules associated with universal access to communications services. Canada has long had regulations in place that ensure that basic telephone service is available to everyone, using a funding model that subsidizes higher costs in rural communities.
My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that for most Canadians, however, basic telephone service no longer adequately addresses their needs. Today the Internet is widely recognized as the most indispensable communications tool, providing access to everything from electronic messaging to entertainment. While debates over broadband access have lingered for more than 15 years, there are still thousands of Canadians without service, owing to the lack of access or affordability.
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The long election campaign of 2015 has featured a myriad of daily policy announcements as the three largest political parties vie for attention and votes. From targeted tax cuts to new spending promises, political leaders have focused on education, child care, defence, the environment and more. Yet thus far largely missing from the campaign has been the most fundamental digital issue – universal, affordable broadband Internet access.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Conservatives pointed to their spending on broadband in August when few were paying much attention, but that policy has done little to stem Canada’s steady slide in the global broadband rankings which indicate that Canadian Internet services are middling at best when compared to other developed countries. The opposition parties have said even less, failing to take advantage of consumer frustration by unveiling innovative policies that might address the issue.
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In the wake of nearly two decades of study, debate, task forces, and government programs, Canada’s telecommunications regulator has begun to unveil its blueprint for ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. If the plan rolls out as many expect, Canadians in urban areas will benefit from a more competitive environment for high-speed fibre services, while consumers in rural and remote areas will be guaranteed access through a clear legal commitment to universal broadband service.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that part one of the blueprint was released last week as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected opposition from large cable and telecom providers by ordering them to offer independent Internet providers wholesale access to emerging high-speed fibre networks.
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The OECD released its latest Internet broadband data yesterday, covering the 34 OECD member states. The update emphasized wireless broadband access, comparing subscription rates across the OECD (many other aspects of the OECD data collection, including pricing and speeds, were not updated). Wireless broadband has emerged in recent years as a critical method of Internet connectivity with consumers and businesses relying on mobile broadband, yet the OECD data has Canada ranking poorly for wireless broadband subscriptions when compared to the rest of the developed economy world (coverage from the Wire Report (sub req)). The OECD release comes one week after a CRTC sponsored report found that Canadian wireless pricing is among the most expensive in the G7 in every tier of usage.
Seven countries, including Finland, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Korea, and the U.S., have at least one subscription for every inhabitant. In Canada, the number drops to 53.3 subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants. That places Canada 24th out of 34 OECD countries.
OECD, 2014, http://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/oecdbroadbandportal.htm
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Soon after the publication of my column on the digital divide in Canada, I received the following email from a reader, who lives just north of Toronto (FWIW, I’ve received similar letters from people within the City of Ottawa limits). The reader reacts to both the lack of access and the efforts of Xplornet to stop the government from supporting communities without access. The letter ends with an important question: will the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology take the time to hear directly from Canadians without access? The full letter is posted below with permission.
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