Chris Seidl to the annual conference of the BC Broadband Association

Speech

Richmond, B.C.
April 30, 2019

Chris Seidl, Executive Director, Telecommunications
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Thank you for your warm welcome.

Before beginning, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting here today on Musqueam traditional territory. I would like to give thanks and pay respect to their Elders.

I’m glad to be back again this year to attend your conference and to meet with the members of the BC Broadband Association. Your organization has done an excellent job serving as the primary advocate for broadband and wireless services providers in BC. I applaud you for providing a forum for important information sessions for your members.

I appreciate this chance to bring you up-to-date information on recent CRTC activities. I’ll talk briefly about our Broadband Fund, as well as other decisions and proceedings that will have a direct bearing on your businesses and Canada’s telecommunications industry. A sector that is now foundational to almost every aspect of Canadians’ lives.

Overview

Digital technologies are indispensable to individuals, public institutions and businesses of all sizes in today’s world. Access to high-quality telecommunications services is an absolute necessity – whether you live in Nelson or North Vancouver.

So, it’s no surprise that Canadians are relying on, and making greater use, of these services than ever before.

Most important to the CRTC, in 2017, 84% of Canadians households had access to fixed Internet access service meeting the Commission’s universal service objective broadband speed target of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload. Our goal is to achieve 90% coverage by the end of 2021 and 100% as soon as possible within the following decade.

We also know how important it is for consumers not have their usage limited. That is why we also require the offering of an unlimited fixed access solution as part of the objective.

A broadband connection requires high quality to ensure the services and applications operate effectively and enable new innovative solutions to be provided to all Canadians. Recently, we reaffirmed our commitment to this high level of quality concerning latency, jitter and packet loss. All of which are important and should be available in all parts of the country, including the North, in order to meet our goal.

In addition to fixed access, the universal service objective includes access to mobile wireless service for all households and along major transportation roads.

To achieve the universal service objective, the CRTC indicated that a collaborative approach would be required by all stakeholders, which includes both private and public support.

We are very glad to see that the CRTC isn’t the only one committed to attaining these universal service standards. In addition to private-sector initiatives, last fall the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments agreed to establish a national strategy for the deployment of broadband, including adopting the 50/10 target.

We have also seen several budget announcements including the federal Budget in March of this year, which included a multi-year plan to give all Canadians access to high-speed Internet by 2030.

The Budget proposes to invest up to $1.7 billion in targeted initiatives that support universal high-speed Internet at minimum speeds of 50/10 Mbps in rural, remote and northern communities. The government estimates that $5 to $6 billion will be invested in rural broadband over the next decade, through a mix of public and private sector funds.

The Budget noted the need for a coordinated effort involving partners in the private sector and across all levels of government. We fully agree with this principle and will collaborate to the extent that our independence and decision-making ability permits.

Broadband Fund

The government’s plans and investments complement the CRTC’s decision to make available $750 million as part of our own Broadband Fund. As you’re likely aware, the Broadband Fund is designed to support projects that build or upgrade access and transport infrastructure to provide fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet service in currently underserved areas.

Because, while 97% of households in urban areas have access to service that meets the universal service objective, the rate was just 37% in rural areas at the end of 2017.

The Broadband Fund will help to bridge the digital divide by enabling businesses and other interested groups to move further and much faster to ensure the broadband needs of Canadians living in rural and remote areas are met.

Canadian corporations of all sizes, provincial, territorial and municipal government organizations, as well as band councils or Indigenous governments with the necessary experience can apply for funding. Any partnership, joint venture, or consortium composed of any of these parties is also eligible.

In the first year, the fund will make up to $100 million available. That will increase by $25 million annually, to a cap of $200 million a year. Up to 10% of the annual total will be provided to satellite-dependent communities. The fund is technology neutral. We looking forward to receiving a variety of creative technical solutions that meet the universal service objective.

Since last fall, we’ve announced details about how the Broadband Fund will work, including the criteria to evaluate applications for funding. We also published maps based on 2017 data that show the:

  • regions that already have access to 50/10 Mbps and which do not.
  • major roads and inhabited areas that do not have access to LTE service
  • communities without high-capacity transport, and
  • satellite-dependent communities.

We are in the process of verifying the year end 2018 data we recently collected and will be updating the mapping information when we issue the first call for applications.

As well, last February, we released a preliminary application guide to give interested parties an opportunity to offer feedback. The guide, which is currently being finalized, will help interested parties to complete and submit their applications for funding.

Evaluation

Successful projects will be chosen based on a three-step process: eligibility, assessment and project selection. Applications will be evaluated based on many factors, including their technical merit, financial viability, the level of community consultation and involvement, and the amount of funding from other sources – both public and private. Special consideration may be given to the efficient use of funds or projects targeted to Indigenous or official-language minority communities.

Applicants will need to submit a business plan clearly demonstrating that, without support from the Broadband Fund, the project is not financially viable. They will also need to specify the amount they will invest in their projects and their ability to secure this amount.

Conditions

There will be conditions attached when funds are released to successful applicants, so the Commission can make sure they deliver on their commitments.

One of the conditions for access projects, for example, is that recipients must offer the service speed and capacity, the quality of service and retail pricing that they committed to in their application.

Another condition is that carriers must offer and provide wholesale and retail open access to funded transport infrastructure. Information on planned locations, dates, service speeds and service descriptions need to be made public upon completion of the statement of work.

You can find out more about the types of conditions we intend to impose in the application guide.

Call for applications

We will be launching a first call for applications in the coming months. It will set out the length of the application period, eligible regions and the type of projects to be targeted in the first call. An application guide and mapping information will be published consistent with the scope of the first call and for each subsequent call for applications.

Given the necessity of achieving the universal service objective in all parts of the country, we look forward to receiving many high-quality projects from applicants.

Forecast 2020-2021

Something else I want to note is that, in our CRTC Forecast update, published two weeks ago, we shared our planned activities for the next fiscal year. The Commission issues these look-ahead reports to provide advance notice of our priorities so that interested parties can plan accordingly.

The Forecast included plans for a new proceeding related to rural broadband deployment. Even with financial support from the Broadband Fund or other public sources, Internet service providers may still face challenges and barriers that limit their ability to improve broadband access in rural and remote areas.

For this reason, and under the scope of Telecommunications Act, the CRTC intends to examine factors such as the availability of rural transport services and access to support structures. These services are important to extend broadband Internet access and to foster competition, particularly in rural and remote areas.

We also are currently in the midst of an important review of the mobile wireless services market.

The CRTC is examining the state of the mobile wireless market to decide whether we need to do more to improve competitive choice and affordability for Canadian consumers. This is in addition to the department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development’s actions to develop the wireless market, such as the recent auction for the 600 megahertz spectrum.

We’re seeking comments on our preliminary view that mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) should have mandated access to the networks of the national wireless providers until they can establish themselves in the market.

In launching the proceeding, the Commission noted that a sustainable retail MVNO market has failed to develop on its own. We expressed the preliminary view that a well-developed market would provide benefits to Canadians that likely outweigh any negative impacts on network investments.

Given the imminent emergence of 5G, the CRTC also is looking ahead to the future of mobile wireless services in Canada. We’ll be assessing whether regulatory measures are needed to facilitate the deployment of 5G network infrastructure.

All Canadians are invited to share their views on this issue with the initial intervention deadline of May 15th. The CRTC will hold a public hearing starting on January 13, 2020 in the National Capital Region as part of this important review.

Before wrapping up, I want to briefly mention a few other activities on the horizon.

Among the key items to address competitive choice for consumers that is on the Commission’s ‘to-do’ list is determining final rates for aggregated wholesale high-speed access services, as well as rates and conditions for disaggregated wholesale high-speed access services in Ontario and Quebec. Once those decisions are issued in the coming months, we will turn our attention to rolling out the disaggregated service in other regions of the country.

We also will examine the state of interconnection and wireline wholesale services starting next year. Effective competition requires that service providers efficiently interconnect with one another and make various wholesale services available to support residential and business retail markets. We want to make sure these arrangements are facilitating the development of a competitive Canadian telecommunications market, while balancing incentives to invest in innovative networks.

In related work, we will review the Commission’s current approach to setting wholesale service rates.

During this fiscal year, we will explore how to make the process more transparent and efficient to make sure the rates the CRTC sets for wholesale services continue to be just and reasonable and in a timely fashion.

I want to reinforce just how crucial it is that your members’ voices are heard before we make policy and regulatory decisions as those decisions are based on the public record that is developed. I strongly encourage you to continue to take advantage of these opportunities. Anyone can file an application or submit an intervention, and our processes are open and transparent. So, make sure your perspectives are considered. As people at the forefront of this industry, your input is very valuable to the process.

Conclusion

All of these activities reinforce our conviction that there must be robust and competitive fixed and mobile wireless markets that provide choice of affordable and innovative services to meet the growing broadband needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Bridging the digital divide and ensuring new divides do not occur is paramount in today’s connected world.

I believe that recent Commission decisions and actions – including the Broadband Fund – will help to advance our universal service objective.

But the CRTC only holds a few of the levers. Ultimately, all stakeholders need to work together to enable all Canadians, whatever their digital address, to participate fully in the digital economy and the digital society.

As industry leaders and innovators, you are in a position to make a meaningful difference as you continue to build and deliver advanced services and infrastructure throughout all regions of British Columbia and the rest of Canada. I wish you every success as you carry on this very important work.

Thank you.

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