Canada: High-Speed Broadband Is Basic Service

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's version of the FCC, has declared that high-speed broadband internet access is now a "basic" telecommunications service that should be available to all Canadians and announced a plan to try and achieve that goal.

The FCC has been pretty much treating broadband as a basic service, migrating its Lifeline and high-cost area phone subsidies to broadband and upping its speed targets.

CRTC is upping its targets as well, saying that 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream are the table stakes to participate in the digital economy. CRTC is also setting the target of unlimited data options for fixed broadband and wireless available along "major Canadian roadways," as well as in homes and businesses.

Canada is putting its money where its targets are, pledging to invest $750 million to help meet those goals via funding infrastructure upgrades where service currently falls short of those table stakes, what CRTC is calling "underserved" areas.  

The CRTC is also making sure consumers know what they are getting in internet access plans.

"No later than six months from today, service providers should ensure that contracts are written in clear and plain language, and should make available online tools so consumers can easily manage their data usage," CRTC declared.

According to CRTC, 82% of Canadians have access to 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload fixed broadband speeds, but there are many, particularly in rural and remote areas, without access to broadband at comparable "speed, capacity, quality and price."

"Access to broadband Internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive," said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, sounding like he was channeling FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. "Canadians who participated during our process told us that no matter where they live or work in our vast country — whether in a small town in northern Yukon, a rural area of eastern Quebec or in downtown Calgary — everyone needs access to high-quality fixed Internet and mobile services. We are doing our part to bring broadband services to rural and remote communities."

He said that all players have to participate in leveling that access playing field but signaled that price was best left to the marketplace.

"All levels of government must address gaps in digital literacy," he said, but added: "Affordability concerns are best addressed by the emergence of a dynamic market place where service providers compete on price for telecommunication services, in conjunction with social responsibility programs of telecommunications carriers and different levels of government."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.