Christianne Laizner to the 2017 Canadian ISP Summit

Speech

Toronto, Ontario
November 7, 2017

Christianne Laizner, Vice-Chairperson, Telecommunications
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Thank you for your warm welcome.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples. I thank them and pay respect to their Elders.

This is my first chance to speak with many of you since starting in my new position as Vice-Chair of Telecommunications with the CRTC. I have looked forward to this, as this Summit has earned a well-deserved reputation for showcasing the very latest in telecommunications.

I have to admit it’s a bit daunting to speak after all the impressive sessions today on topics such as artificial intelligence, autonomous networks, GFast and Super Vectoring.

I am going to bring you back down to earth this evening by reminding you that many Canadians in rural and remote communities are far removed from this exciting future.

Millions of Canadians living in those regions still find it very difficult, or nearly impossible, to participate in the digital economy.

Try launching a new online business … stream videos … download music … or just keep computer software up-to-date … when you’re still dealing with a slow Internet connection with limited data allowance.

Last year’s CRTC hearing on basic telecommunications services outlined the challenges and missed opportunities posed by the digital gap.

We heard from more than 50,000 people – individual Canadians, service providers, business owners and leaders of Indigenous communities. Many of them told us they’re being left behind in the digital age. Fast, reliable, high-quality Internet is out of reach in many parts of the country.

We all know that broadband is vital in the 21st century. It’s how we communicate with each other, educate and entertain ourselves, access information, apply for jobs and do everyday activities from accessing health care to banking to using government services.

It’s the essential tool we use to make our living, sell products and services, and compete with the rest of the world. Our lives and livelihoods depend on it, so access and speed have never mattered more.

Modern telecommunications services

But there still exists a digital divide in Canada. That’s why our December 2016 policy announcement made broadband a basic telecommunications service. All Canadians need access to voice services and broadband Internet access services on fixed and mobile wireless networks.

The Commission also set an ambitious target. All Canadians should have access to fixed broadband Internet services with minimum speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload, along with access to an unlimited data allowance. These services should be available in 90% of Canadian homes and businesses by 2021, and available to the remaining 10% within 10 to 15 years.

By the way, I’m excited to share a sneak preview of this year’s edition of the Communications Monitoring Report. The broadcasting data will be released tomorrow and the telecommunications data will follow on Thursday.

According to data from the Communications Monitoring Report, 84% of Canadians have access to the speed target for fixed broadband Internet services. And the percentage of Canadians who subscribe to an Internet service with a download speed of 50 Mbps jumped from 3.6% five years ago to 26% in 2016. It will also come as no surprise that Canadians are using more data over their home Internet connections. Between 2015 and 2016, monthly downloads and uploads grew by 23.4% to 128 gigabits per month.

Of course, fixed broadband is only part of the equation, given that over 25 million Canadians now subscribe to a mobile broadband service. For this reason, our decision also stipulated that, beyond homes and businesses, the latest mobile wireless technology must also be available along major Canadian roads.

As you know, the latest mobile technology is currently long-term evolution or LTE. In 2016, LTE and LTE-advanced wireless networks were available to approximately 98% and 83% of Canadians, respectively.

The CRTC’s decision sends a clear signal that, regardless of their postal code, all Canadians need access to voice and broadband Internet, wherever and whenever they require service.

That’s where organizations like yours can make a major contribution. Because, whether we talk about fixed or mobile, ensuring all Canadians have access to universal broadband services will take much more than CRTC regulatory policy.

The universal service objective will only be reached with the help of all players across the Canadian telecommunications landscape. Service providers, along with government programs where needed, play a key role in improving broadband access and speeds in communities that are more challenging to serve.

As this Summit makes clear, there’s no shortage of groundbreaking technologies or innovative ideas about how to better serve Canadians, including those rural and remote communities. In fact, some communities are already pioneering their own solutions to their digital challenges.

Take the example of Eeyou Communications Network in Northern Quebec where it’s helping to eliminate the digital divide for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Just last week, Eeyou launched, with government support, a new regional fibre network to provide broadband Internet services to 9,000 homes in isolated communities around James Bay. It already has linked Cree Health and School Boards, band councils, and other municipal offices and organizations.

On a broader scale, there are a lot of technological advances that could positively impact broadband offerings in remote areas, such as high throughput satellites and low-Earth orbit satellites. Both promise to deliver high-quality broadband access to Canadians in remote and rural areas and are expected to help close the digital divide.

High throughput satellites can offer dramatically increased broadband speeds compared to traditional satellites. Meanwhile, low-Earth orbit satellites have the potential to provide broadband speeds and quality of service comparable to terrestrial networks. Companies such as Telesat, OneWeb and Space X have all announced plans to launch low-Earth orbit satellites in the near future.

And then there is fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology.  It’s expected to provide high-quality broadband to mobile and fixed users, including billions of connected devices.

These new technologies will be real game changers that could enable all Canadians to benefit from high-quality broadband Internet.

Of course, it takes more than initiative to be innovative – it also requires money.  The CRTC acknowledged this in its decision with the creation of a new broadband fund.

The Commission has been involved for years in ensuring that rates for local landline telephone services were kept just and reasonable. This was done through the local service subsidy regime.

The December 2016 policy announced the Commission’s intention to phase-out current funding for local voice services to reflect its shift in focus to broadband.  We are establishing a new fund focused on broadband expansion in rural and remote areas.

We are making up to $750 million available over five years to help pay for infrastructure to extend broadband Internet services to areas that have limited access to broadband. The fund will cover both upgrades to existing infrastructure and new construction to provide fixed and mobile broadband Internet services.

A lot of the details still need to be worked out. At a minimum, the fund will focus on under-serviced areas. It will be managed at arm’s length. And it will be complementary to – but not a replacement for – existing and future private investment and public funding.

A public consultation to develop the new regime was launched last April, and is still ongoing. You are likely aware that a wide variety of views have already been put on the public record. We thank you for your contributions, which will assist us in finalizing how the fund will work.

We will be rendering our decision sometime in the new year.

While setting up the broadband fund is keeping us busy, there are a number of other telecom proceedings that are ongoing as well.

You may recall that, in 2015, we announced measures to foster competition among companies offering broadband Internet services. This is consistent with our efforts to promote facilities-based competition to provide Canadians with more choice for high-speed connectivity.

To meet these objectives, the large telcos and cable companies have to give smaller service providers access to their last-mile facilities, including over fibre-access facilities. This will give smaller firms more flexibility to offer innovative services. The change is taking place in phases, starting in Ontario and Quebec, where the competitor demand is greatest for wholesale high-speed access services.

As part of this first phase, we have worked out the configurations for the disaggregated wholesale high-speed access services in Ontario and Quebec. In addition, we have set interim rates to allow a competitor to connect its transport facilities to a large company’s network. The transition to the new system in other regions will be announced at a later date.

With regards to existing, aggregated wholesale high-speed access services, in 2016 we directed large companies to file new tariffs reflecting established costing principles and methodologies. Those filings are currently under review.  As we are currently working on both rate setting processes, we expect to announce the final rates sometime next year.

Report on distribution models

At the risk of holding up dinner any longer, I’d like to highlight just one more proceeding we recently launched. Last month, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly asked the CRTC to produce a report on how Canadians access content and the implications for future distribution models in a world dominated by the Internet.

Broadband access will increasingly determine what content Canadians are able to receive and how. So the review could have major implications for your sector, as it will help inform the government’s thinking as it reviews the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts.

The Commission is conducting public consultations on these issues, which will be spread over two phases.

In the first stage, taking place right now, we are asking Canadians a series of questions.  One of the questions is: How will fixed and mobile broadband networks keep pace with future data streaming capacity requirements, particularly in rural and remote areas?

We welcome your thoughts on this issue – or any other aspect of the future of Canadian content in a digital world. The deadline for the first phase of comments is December 1.

Conclusion

Without pre-supposing the outcomes of these public proceedings, one thing is sure. Access to robust, scalable and high-quality broadband networks at affordable prices is crucial to Canada’s economic, social and cultural prosperity.

So we are looking to visionaries and industry innovators like you to help address the digital divide. Your expertise, and cutting-edge technologies that can improve Canadians’ digital access, are very much needed.

Based on the displays at this Summit that demonstrate the sector’s ingenuity and knowing that the CRTC and Canada’s telecom leaders are committed to competition, investment and innovation as you drive Canada’s digital future, I am confident this goal is within our grasp.

Thank you.

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