Claire Anderson to Canada’s Rural and Remote Broadband Conference
Kelowna, British Columbia
November 2, 2023
Claire Anderson, Commissioner, British Columbia and Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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I am so grateful to be asked to speak at Canada’s Rural and Remote Broadband Conference, and before I continue, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to be on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan people. I understand that the Syilx Okanagan people signed the Okanagan Nation Declaration in 1987, confirming that they are the unconquered Aboriginal people of this land and that they have never given up their rights to the land and resources.
So, I am grateful to be here, and I pay my respects to the owners of this land.
I come from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, in northern British Columbia, from the Crow moiety. My father was Sandy Anderson, from the Yanyèdi clan, his mother, Mary, was from the Yanyèdi clan and his father, Richard, was from the Ishkìtán clan.
It’s a tremendous pleasure to be here today. I have wanted to attend a CCRBC conference since I was appointed to the CRTC over four years ago. However, during that time, as you know, we experienced a societal shift and while we were in the middle of the pandemic, we were unable to meet in person.
So, I am truly grateful to have this opportunity to join you.
Our mandate is to ensure that all Canadians have access to a world-class communication system, including those living in remote, rural and Indigenous communities. I am no stranger to the challenges of expanding connectivity to rural and remote communities. I’ve lived in several remote communities, including on my reserve, which is a twenty-minute drive to the Yukon border, as well as in a reserve on an island off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
People living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities have an especially strong need for connectivity, as so many of our health care, educational, work and social needs depend on reliable connectivity. But this isn’t news to anyone in this room. Everyone in attendance knows the need to connect all Canadians in all regions, and you have taken on the responsibility to connect some of the most hard-to-reach areas, as service providers, vendors, consultants, and governments.
Over the next few days, we will hear from industry experts on a wide range of topics, like the challenges of developing rural community projects and the effects of climate change on network resiliency. And, notably, there is an emphasis on Indigenous connectivity and reconciliation, which is a large portion of what I plan to discuss today.
Reconciliation is such a deeply meaningful word, particularly to Indigenous Canadians. While its use was popularized during the class-action lawsuit brought by residential school survivors against the federal government, it may also serve to address other injustices, both historic, like the establishment of reserves, which relocated our people to foreign territories devoid of resources, or recent injustices, like we saw during the negotiations to compensate Indigenous children and families who were affected by underpayment of the child welfare system.
As we know, the class-action lawsuit resulted in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which, after years of public consultation with survivors, resulted in the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, directed mainly towards all levels of government, but also to the corporate sector in Canada.
Call 92 calls upon the corporate sector to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles to operational activities involving Indigenous Peoples, lands and resources. This includes meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships and ensuring that Indigenous peoples have equitable access to jobs, training and education opportunities.
Most of the other Calls are to different levels of government, and us, public servants. They call upon the government to work with Indigenous peoples to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. They also call on all levels of government to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation, which the federal government has commenced with its enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and its ongoing implementation.
Under the UN Declaration [Article 18], Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures.
Article 19 outlines that states must consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.
We, at the CRTC, included the commitment to advance reconciliation as an ongoing priority, in our 2023 Areas of Focus, found on our website.
We have begun including references to and questions about the Calls to Action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in our proceedings.
We have also begun to take additional steps to increase Indigenous participation in our proceedings. For example, in our Telecom in the Far North proceeding we have extended the deadline for parties to file final submissions and for new submissions on matters that provide Nunavut or Inuit Nunangat perspectives to November 29.
Consultation and engagement is just one step towards advancing reconciliation, but it’s an important step. Actions, of course, speak louder than words.
One of the ways we have acted is through the third call to our Broadband Fund, in which we noted that we would assess projects that affect Indigenous communities through a reconciliation lens. We required applicants to identify all Indigenous communities potentially affected by a project, including in cases where an Indigenous community may not be directly served by a project [paragraphs 22 to 25].
We have also prioritized funding projects that serve Indigenous communities since the inception of the Broadband Fund.
We have committed to continuing to advance reconciliation in the work that we do, and we recognize that our commitment will help in closing the digital divide.
The digital divide
Let me begin by telling you what we already know: 91.4% of Canadians have high-speed Internet access at the universal service objective speed of 50/10 megabits per second.
On the face of it, that’s a pretty solid number. But what we also know is that only 62% of Canadians in rural areas have that same level of access. For those living on reserve, that number is even lower: just 43.3%.
As part of our ongoing commitment to include diverse viewpoints into our proceedings, we occasionally commission public opinion research, including two public opinion research reports added to our Telecom in the North proceeding.
In the second report, we heard from community members living in the north that their remote and rural community was “entirely internet-reliant,” meaning that form of communications, supports, finances and economics need stable connections in order to function properly.
They noted that their entire community relies on virtual visits with doctors in the south for medical care, and often there are Elders and other vulnerable members of the community who can’t receive timely care because of internet disruptions.
That’s the digital divide, and those examples show what it means to be living on the wrong side of the divide. Bridging that gap is an important part of our work at the CRTC, and it’s something we are all working toward. My view is achieving this goal will help demonstrate our commitment to the reconciliation process.
Let me take a few minutes to detail the work we are undertaking to get there.
Broadband Fund and review
In 2019, we launched the Broadband Fund to complement other funding programs operated by federal, provincial and territorial authorities. Entirely funded by the industry, it supports projects that increase access to high-speed Internet and cellphone services in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
To date, the Broadband Fund has committed more than $240 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 assessing the applications we received further to our third call. In total, we received over 100 applications seeking $1.9 billion for projects to improve access in the hardest-to-reach communities.
Earlier this year, we also launched a comprehensive review of the Broadband Fund to make sure we’re doing all we can to close the remaining connectivity gaps as quickly as possible.
The public record on the review has just closed, and we welcomed submissions from Indigenous and rural communities throughout the consultation process.
While I can’t get into specifics yet of what we are intending to do, I can detail some of the issues our review explored as a sign of what may be to come.
For example, a central part of our review focused on identifying and addressing the specific economic and social needs of Indigenous peoples and how the Broadband Fund can be used to advance our shared reconciliation goals.
We sought feedback from Indigenous communities in particular on a proposal for a new, Indigenous-specific funding stream within the program.
And we looked at different ways we can improve engagement between applicants and Indigenous communities that may be affected by telecommunications infrastructure projects. We recognize we need greater guidance in how to navigate these issues.
We also looked at ways to speed up our process and make the application process for funding easier and faster.
I’ve heard throughout the past few years how Indigenous ownership of telecom services and infrastructure is an important part of economic reconciliation. But also, we have heard that in addition to Indigenous ownership of infrastructure, we need to consider creating and supporting capacity for running and maintaining the networks as well.
These communities want training and job opportunities and the ability to operate and maintain the networks, and not simply to own what independent companies then have to operate.
We have heard you, and these are all things that we are considering at the CRTC moving forward.
As I mentioned earlier, we received some feedback from rural and Indigenous communities during this review process.
But the truth is, we did not receive as much as we had hoped. I’m not here to ask everyone here to participate more; instead, I’m here to tell you that we recognize that we at the CRTC have to do more to improve and increase our dialogue with these communities.
To do that, we must meet these communities where they are.
I have heard from some in these communities that they lack familiarity with the CRTC’s proceedings and the ways in which they can get involved.
It’s plain to see that we won’t get the feedback we need, and from whom we need it, without taking a different approach. We know we need to improve.
So, we are looking at different ways to be more proactive, ways in which we can actively engage communities.
It’s still early days in this regard, of course, but we expect to have more news to share in the coming weeks and months. We are looking forward to growing our own capacity for engagement to ensure we hear from all communities.
An accessible CRTC
That engagement is so vital, and we know our work is just getting started. We do not want to be seen as a veiled government organization. We are here for all Canadians, especially for everyone experiencing the digital divide.
Going through our processes should not be a daunting experience, and it should not be one you have to navigate alone.
Personally, I want you all to know I am available. While I can’t discuss any of our open proceedings, I can answer your general questions, or I can direct your questions to one of my colleagues at the Commission.
Because, after all, everyone at the Commission and every person in this room, shares a common goal: connecting as many communities to high-speed Internet access as possible.
We are here to work with you.
I have covered a lot of ground today, but I’d like to leave you by re-emphasizing how important closing the digital divide is at the CRTC.
All of the plans and reviews I discussed today are part of our ongoing efforts to right past wrongs and ensure Indigenous, rural, and remote communities have the same access to high-speed networks that the rest of Canada already enjoys.
We know it will take time. We are doing what we can to begin from a place of learning. And we are learning as we go, because the speed of the digital world means that every day Indigenous communities lack access is another day they are left behind in our modern economy.
Learning, however, is not enough. We need to act upon what we learn.
This work is ongoing. We are approving telecommunications infrastructure projects as quickly as we can and we are trying to ensure that our funding opportunities meet the many different needs of Canadians and providers.
If you find yourself lost or needing help in navigating our processes, there is support available. We have a single point of contact for telecommunications service providers, which can be reached at 1-877-793-8444. Staff will be happy to assist and answer questions.
Our journey is long, and the destination, as I mentioned before, may change. But this commitment is long overdue. And so long as we help one another and learn from one another, I know we will arrive together in a better place.
Gunalcheesh (thank you, Tlingit).
Toll-free 1-877-249-CRTC (2782)
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