Jean-Pierre Blais to the Arctic Broadband Forum

Speech

Fairbanks, Alaska
May 9, 2017

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

To the Arctic Broadband Forum Panel on “The government’s role in broadband development in the Arctic: opportunities and challenges”

Check against delivery

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is an administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest. We are dedicated to ensuring that Canadians—as citizens, creators and consumers—have access to a world-class communication system that promotes innovation and enriches their lives.

Recently, we announced a new broadband policy, one that speaks to the topics we are likely to discuss today.

Basic telecommunications services

In December 2016, the CRTC issued a policy stating that all Canadians, no matter where they live in the country, should have access to broadband Internet services.

In effect, the CRTC sees broadband Internet as essential for all Canadians – including, of course, Canadians who live in Arctic communities.

Modern telecommunications services are fundamental to Canada’s future economic prosperity, global competitiveness, social development, and democratic discourse.

Fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet access services are catalysts for innovation. These technologies underpin a vibrant, creative, interactive world that connects Canadians across vast distances and with the rest of the world.

That’s why the CRTC decided that broadband is a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians and established a new universal service objective.

And it’s why we are establishing a funding regime to support projects in areas, such as remote and northern communities, where broadband Internet service is not comparable to urban areas.

The fund will provide up to $750 million in the first 5 years.

The objectives of this policy are that:

  • Canadians in urban, rural and remote areas can access high-quality telecommunications services.
  • Telecommunications companies continue to invest in, and various levels of government continue to fund, robust, scalable infrastructure.
  • Canadians can access innovative service offerings that enhance social and economic development.
  • Canadians can make informed decisions about their telecommunications services.

Universal service objective

The new universal service objective is that all Canadians have access to voice services and broadband Internet access services on both fixed and mobile wireless networks.

We have set ambitious new targets to measure our success in achieving this objective. Canadians should have access to:

  • speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for fixed broadband services – ten times the previous targets that had been set in 2011
  • an unlimited data option for fixed broadband services, and
  • the latest generally available mobile wireless technology not only in homes and businesses, but also along major Canadian roads.

Approximately 82% of Canadians already have access to the new targets for fixed broadband, but the gap remains in rural areas and widens as download speeds increase.

The remaining 18% of households are typically located in rural communities or areas with relatively low population density.

Many of these communities are in Canada’s north. For many people in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, access to higher-speed Internet service is far less than in urban areas.

Today, about 89% of households in British Columbia can access broadband speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. In the Northwest Territories, just 48% of households can access such speeds. And in Nunavut, practically none of the households can access speeds beyond 10 Mbps.

Fixed broadband Internet access services that meet the new speed targets should be available to 90% of Canadian homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

We expect that these services will become available to the remaining 10% within 10-15 years.

Broadband Fund

To assist in reaching the universal service objective, the CRTC is establishing a new fund regime that will make available up to $750 million over the first five years.

The fund’s guiding principles are to:

  • focus on underserved areas in Canada
  • align with the broader ecosystem of current and future funding and investments, and
  • be managed at arm’s length, based on objective criteria, and administered transparently, fairly and efficiently.

In addition, the fund will be designed along the following considerations:

  • It will fund access commonly referred to as last-mile and transport infrastructure for fixed and mobile broadband service.
  • Applicants will need to secure a minimum level of government funding. We have also proposed that they will need to provide a minimum amount of private-sector investment.
  • Closing the gaps and funding broadband is a shared responsibility between industry, governments and the CRTC.
  • A competitive process will be used to distribute funds.

Where will the $750 million come from? Telecommunications service providers currently provide a small percentage of their revenues to support residential local voice service.

Contributions to this local voice subsidy will be transitioned to the new broadband fund.

We recently launched public consultations to phase-out the voice subsidy regime and to finalize the design of the broadband fund regime.

Gaps

During our consultation with Canadians, we identified two additional gaps regarding the adoption of broadband Internet services across Canada: the affordability of broadband Internet services and digital literacy.

Here is what we said in our policy decision:

  1. Affordability of broadband services for lower income consumers requires a comprehensive solution that involves other stakeholders’ participation.
  2. Digital literacy is not within CRTC core mandate and requires coordination of multiple stakeholders to address gaps.

Information about these gaps was included in the report we submitted to the Canadian government’s Innovation Agenda.

Efforts to close these gaps need to be coordinated and are a shared responsibility between all players, including: the regulator, different levels of government – including Indigenous communities, telecommunications industry and non-governmental organizations.

The Canadian government took a first step to tackle these gaps in its most recent budget. It announced two new programs: one to teach basic digital skills and the other to help service providers offer low-cost home Internet packages to interested low-income families.

Conclusion

The Arctic is home to many Indigenous communities. Those communities know first-hand how inadequate today’s Internet services are.

During our public consultations, several groups told us there are demonstrable inequities between Indigenous communities and other communities when it comes to the availability of broadband Internet services.

Broadband improves the quality of life for Canadians. Broadband empowers people as citizens, creators, and consumers. Broadband connects Canadians for business, for education, for health care and, increasingly, for government services.

That’s why it is so important for us to make sure Canadians across the entire country can access broadband that is reliable, fast and affordable. And as demonstrated by our recent policy decision, we are doing our part to help make it a reality.

We know it won’t be easy to bring broadband to all parts of the country. But if we ensure everyone who has a stake in Canada’s broadband future takes part in helping to build it, we stand a better chance of succeeding.

I encourage those with an interest in broadband in Canada to participate in our public consultation to finalize the funding regime.

I look forward to hearing more from the rest of the panel. And I thank you all for giving me the time to outline the CRTC perspective on broadband Internet service access.

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