Ian Scott to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
December 12, 2018
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
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My name is Ian Scott and I am the Chairperson of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). With me today is Chris Seidl, Executive Director of Telecommunications at the CRTC and Ian Baggley, Director General of Strategic Planning, Broadband Funds & Networks.
We appreciate this opportunity to appear before this Committee to discuss the findings of the Office of the Auditor General, and to explain the CRTC’s role in increasing connectivity for Canadians living in rural and remote regions of the country.
As the Auditor General’s report on Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas noted, the Commission has a limited, but important, part to play.
Our job as an independent regulator is to ensure Canadians have access to a world-class communication system that promotes innovation and enriches their lives. The CRTC believes that all Canadians – no matter where they live – should have access to broadband Internet services, on both fixed and mobile networks.
As the Auditor General’s report underlines, connectivity is vital in today’s world. Broadband is the critical tool we use to communicate with each other, educate and entertain ourselves, find information, apply for jobs and do routine activities, from banking to accessing health care and other government services. So, Canadians need access to an unfettered Internet experience.
While we don’t hold all the levers, there are areas where the CRTC can – and is – helping to advance this goal. A perfect example is the Commission’s December 2016 announcement that broadband Internet is now considered a basic telecommunications service.
At the same time, we established a new universal service objective. It calls for all Canadians to have access to fixed broadband services at download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 10 Mbps, as well as access to an unlimited data option. The latest mobile wireless technology – currently Long-term Evolution (LTE) mobile service – should be available not only in Canadian homes and businesses, but also on major roads in Canada.
By the end of 2021, we expect that 90% of Canadian households will have access to speeds matching the universal service objective. By our estimates, it will take another decade after that for the remaining 10% to join them.
Mr. Chairman, 84% of Canadians have access to the Internet at the new speed targets. However, many people living in rural and remote areas can only dream of this level of service. While 97% of households in urban areas have access to service that meets the universal service objective, only 37% in rural areas have similar access.
As a result, 16% of Canadian households or nearly two million Canadians still don’t have access to the universal service objective speeds or unlimited data option. Fast, reliable, high-quality Internet is simply out of reach, whether physically or financially, in many parts of the country.
That message came through loud and clear during the CRTC’s public hearing on basic telecommunications services. We heard from more than 50,000 people – individual Canadians, business owners and leaders of Indigenous communities. Many of them told us they’re being left behind in the digital age.
Coverage gaps vary by region. Smaller maritime and prairie communities often do not enjoy the high speeds of major urban centres. The worst off, and most in need, are almost always found in Canada’s North.
Efforts to close these gaps need to be coordinated, as they are a shared responsibility among numerous players. Beyond the CRTC, this includes Industry, Science and Economic Development Canada, the provinces and territories, Indigenous governments, the telecommunications industry and non-governmental organizations.
For its part, the CRTC has announced a new Broadband Fund. It will provide up to $750 million over five years to help pay for infrastructure to extend Internet and mobile wireless services to underserved areas. Our objective is to ensure that rural residents have comparable service to that available in urban areas.
Of the $750 million to be made available, up to 10% of the annual total will be provided to improve services in satellite-dependent communities. These are communities that rely on satellite transport to receive one or more telecommunications services such as telephone, fixed and mobile wireless or Internet access services.
Of course, when we launch our first call for applications next year, it will be important for potential applicants to know where the greatest needs are located. We agree with the Auditor General’s report on this issue.
Last month, we published maps indicating the areas of the country that do not have access to broadband speeds of 50 Mbps for download and 10 Mbps for upload. The maps also identify communities without high-capacity transport infrastructure and where homes or major roads do not have access to LTE mobile wireless service. In short, the areas of the country that do not currently meet our universal service objective. We have asked Internet and wireless service providers to verify the accuracy of our maps.
This is consistent with our overall approach regarding broadband data. We make information available to the public in as much detail as possible, while respecting the confidentiality provisions of the Telecommunications Act. In fact, we will soon publish an update to our annual Communications Monitoring Report that will provide fresh data on broadband availability and other related information.
Moreover, a memorandum of understanding was established a number of years ago between the CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. This agreement governs our collaboration and the data that is shared between our organizations. We are committed to sharing information on broadband infrastructure to support evidence-based decision making.
We are also committed to working with all levels of government as part of a collaborative effort to provide broadband Internet service to underserved Canadians. Since announcing the details of our Broadband Fund earlier this fall, we have met with representatives from provincial and territorial governments, as well as federal departments, to explain how the fund will work and to understand their broadband funding plans.
Mr. Chairman, extending broadband and mobile coverage to underserved households, businesses and along major roads will require billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure. There is no doubt that this objective is an ambitious one, in part because of our vast geography and shorter construction seasons in many areas of the country.
The CRTC’s Broadband Fund is obviously just one part of the equation. It is meant to be complementary to – but not a replacement for – existing and future public funding and private investment. Having detailed, accurate and up-to-date information at the disposal of the public and policy-makers will ensure that funds are being directed to the most appropriate projects and communities.
There also is no question that much work remains to be done. I’m confident, however, that this objective will be met in the same manner that railways and electrical grids were built in the past: by connecting one community at a time.
Thank you. We would now be pleased to answer your questions.
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