Claire Anderson to the Indigenous Connectivity Summit 2023
May 22, 2023
Claire Anderson, Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you so much for your warm welcome and hospitality.
I am delighted to spend time in Dena’ina Ełnena, the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people. I realize I am a guest on these lands and I understand the significance of that fact and express my gratitude for being here today.
I’m a citizen of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in Northern British Columbia and recognize that Summit participants come from territories of an immensely diverse range of Indigenous and Tribal communities.
The Commission recognizes the importance of reconciliation, and a land acknowledgement is one way to advance reconciliation. But it’s a simple step. A baby step. It is time to take bigger steps toward reconciliation.
What we need is forward momentum, as we begin this long and complex journey to reconciliation. This journey may not have a destination. The journey will shape-shift as we progress, if we are taking this responsibility seriously.
Our understanding of reconciliation will necessarily evolve as we learn more and more from Indigenous peoples what reconciliation means to them, and how we can take responsibility for our actions and for the effects of our actions as decision makers.
Like anyone else, we will sometimes take missteps as we learn, but we are committed to learning from past errors and we are devoted to moving ahead on this important journey, together.
We just held a public hearing about telecommunications in the Far North. Because it is an open file, I will be unable to discuss the hearing in my presentation today, as well as during any of our discussions over the course of the next few days.
However, I want to emphasize that we were listening to what intervenors said, including, and in particular, what Indigenous intervenors shared with us about reconciliation.
We learned quite a bit about the challenges that lack of connectivity can pose on some northern communities, for example, on education and public safety, just to name a few. We also heard that this can be an opportunity to address future growth and redress past injustices. It’s about focusing on engagements and real relationship-building. We need to make sure that the journey to reconciliation doesn’t start and end with putting up art on the walls.
We, as an organization, have to, and have started to take a more proactive role in this important endeavour. To help drive this, we are placing even more emphasis on community consultations.
For example, we are working with Indigenous Peoples in Canada to co-develop a new Indigenous Broadcasting Policy which will better reflect their needs and interests.
Additionally, in our Telecom in the Far North and our Broadband Fund Policy Review Notices of Consultation, we asked the public for their views on reconciliation and economic reconciliation.
We made reference to the policy recommendations that stemmed from a previous Indigenous Connectivity Summit. We referred the public to the Summit’s policy recommendations because we acknowledge the work that’s already been done to help us act in a way that promotes and advances reconciliation. The work that you do is both important, and noticed.
This is my first time speaking at this conference. I’ve seen previous sessions, and I am amazed by the work that’s been done to deploy community-owned networks across the world. I’ve heard about the use of apps to assist with language and cultural preservation. It’s demonstrative of the ingenuity with which you and communities are working with and developing technology to thrive, culturally.
The Crown took away our children, tried and in some cases, succeeded, in taking our languages, our songs and our ceremonies. And through your brilliant innovation, you are working to bring it all back. I applaud the work that you do for Indigenous communities and culture and look forward to learning more about how regulatory agencies can support this work.
One way we can support the work that you do is by continuing to work towards ensuring that all Canadians have access to high-speed Internet. We set out a universal service objective in 2016, stating that all Canadians are entitled to access high-speed Internet at 50/10 megabits per second (Mbps) speed.
While 91.4% of Canadians have access to services at the universal service objective level, only 62% of Canadians in rural areas have such access. Furthermore, only 43.3% of Canadians living on reserve have access to services at the universal service objective level. And I note that those numbers reflect availability only and do not consider the affordability of those services. In all likelihood, actual accessibility or take-up is even lower.
We have several initiatives to try to address this disparity or this digital divide, which I will get to shortly.
But before I get to our initiatives, I want to point out that any initiative we undertake is informed by the public record. Which is why it is so important to have public participation from all groups, including Indigenous governments and communities, and section 35 rights-holders.
I’ll now take a few minutes to provide an overview of recent developments at the CRTC that reinforce our pledge to support Indigenous businesses and communities through their increased access to the communications system and through a modernized regulatory framework.
In 2019, we launched the Broadband Fund as a complement to other funding programs operated by federal, provincial and territorial authorities. Entirely funded by the industry, it will fund projects that increase access to high-speed Internet and cellphone services to rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
To date, the Broadband Fund has allocated over $226 million for projects in more than 200 rural and remote communities, including 89 Indigenous communities.
As encouraging as this is, we know we must do better to make sure Canadians in every corner of the country – no matter how remote – can fully participate in the digital world.
We are currently accepting applications for funding for projects that will build or upgrade transport fibre infrastructure or infrastructure to improve cellphone connectivity along major roads, as well as operational funding to increase transport capacity in satellite-dependent communities. The deadline for applications to the third call for funding was recently extended to June 15th 2023.
In this Call for applications, we intend to assess projects affecting Indigenous communities through a reconciliation lens, or when selecting projects for funding we will give special consideration to whether the communities affected by proposed projects are Indigenous communities.
In late March, we launched a public consultation to review the Broadband Fund to make sure we’re doing all we can to close the remaining connectivity gaps as quickly as possible.
A central part of the review is focused on exploring how we can advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by ensuring their specific economic and social needs are considered and addressed.
To that end, we have sought feedback on the proposal to create a new Indigenous-only funding stream. We also want to improve engagement between applicants and Indigenous communities that may be affected by projects and are seeking guidance in this regard.
Importantly, we want to identify ways to make it easier and faster to apply for and receive funding. We know the current process to evaluate and select projects can be demanding for small service providers and not as transparent as some might wish – a source of frequent complaints from applicants.
Another thing we’ve often heard is the need for help covering ongoing operating costs. So, we’re also considering helping funding recipients with expenses such as operational costs and supporting projects to improve resiliency of networks.
We need input on these issues from everyone with a stake in increasing connectivity – especially the leadership and members of Indigenous communities, including the business community.
Many groups have expressed the desire to lead or partner in building, owning and operating the networks serving their communities. We are seeking guidance on how to support Indigenous communities in attaining these objectives.
CRTC decisions are based entirely on the views and evidence we receive as part of our consultations. This means that our decisions are only as good as the public record before us, so comments really count.
Because we feel it is so important to hear from Canadians, we are providing a long comment period to enable as many people as possible to provide input. They will be able to provide their views up until July 21st.
Telecommunications in the Far North
As I mentioned earlier, we have also been focusing on how best to improve telecommunications services in Canada’s Far North.
At our public hearing in Whitehorse, Yukon, we heard a number of stories about the importance of affordable and reliable telecommunications services. We heard frustration with the lack of services in some communities, as well as the lack of choice in many other areas.
Some of the solutions we explored during the hearing included the creation of a new subsidy to make Internet services more affordable throughout the Far North, how to measure the affordability of services, how service providers engage with Indigenous rights holders and issues related to outages.
We heard the sense of urgency expressed by those who appeared before us and want to move quickly with targeted and measurable solutions. At the same time, we want to make sure that the outcomes support economic reconciliation.
Internet market competition
More generally, the CRTC has been taking steps to improve competition and access to high-speed Internet services. For example, we have set new timelines to help smaller competitors get faster access to large companies’ telephone poles.
In addition to access, we’ve clarified responsibility for pole maintenance, and given competitors attaching to those poles the ability to perform many types of work themselves or through approved contractors.
In March, we launched a consultation that aims to increase Internet competition in Canada. We’re looking at how to better enable smaller competitors to sell Internet services, including over the large companies’ fibre-to-the-home networks. Our goal is to ensure that Canadians can access modern, high-speed Internet services at competitive prices.
If I have a single message to leave with you today it’s that I am here to listen, learn and work with you.
Given the dramatic transformation that technology is causing to all our lives, we need to work together to make the communications services our citizens depend on as strong, affordable and accessible as we can, so that no one is left behind.
I look forward to learning your perspectives on how to make this a reality.
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