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Canadians have right to broadband no matter where they live: CRTC

There’s good news for Canadian internet users, especially those who live in rural and remote areas. Broadband internet access is now considered a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced today that it is shifting its regulatory focus from wireline voice to broadband services and has established a new $750 million funding mechanism to help meet its objectives. It has also set new speed targets for fixed broadband service: 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading from the internet, and 10 Mbps for uploading. These must be the actual speeds delivered, not merely the advertised speeds. As of 2015, 82 per cent of Canadians already had access to those speeds.

As well, the CRTC has mandated that subscribers to fixed broadband services should have the option of unlimited data. Thirdly, the latest wireless technology should be available not only in Canadians’ homes and businesses but also along major roads.

The overarching goal is universal service, so that all Canadians, whether they live in urban or rural areas, have access to high-speed voice and broadband services on both fixed and wireless networks. Rural dwellers should have access to service that is “similar” to what urban dwellers enjoy, in terms of the services offered, the data allowances, the quality of the service, and the cost.

Access to broadband Internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive. Canadians who participated during our process told us that no matter where they live or work in our vast country—whether in a small town in northern Yukon, a rural area of eastern Quebec or in downtown Calgary—everyone needs access to high-quality fixed Internet and mobile services . . . High quality and reliable digital connectivity is essential for the quality of life of Canadians and Canada’s economic prosperity.

The CRTC has also given all wireless services providers six months in which to “offer and publicize” mobile packages that meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities, including access to 911 service. Providers, including Bell Canada, Bell Mobility, Cogeco, Eastlink, MTS, Rogers Communications, SaskTel, Shaw, Telus and Videotron must each submit a detailed report concerning their plans to invest in the accessibility of their services.

Further, all of the providers must provide their fixed broadband customers with clear explanations of what services are included in their contract, any usage limits that could result in extra charges, the minimum monthly charge for the contract, information about where customers can find out more about overcharges, and whether there is a monthly maximum data overcharge that could show up on the bill. They must also provide account management tools that let customers monitor their own data usage, and provide “plain-language” information about data usage for common online activities, such as video and music streaming.

The focus of the CRTC’s initiative is on rural and remote areas that are underserved by broadband providers.

A new funding mechanism is being set up to provide an additional $750 million to focus on underserved areas in Canada. The funding will be made available to “successful applicants” who submit proposals to upgrade existing access and transport infrastructure for fixed and mobile broadband access. An existing $100 million subsidy for residential voice services in rural and remote areas will now transition to the new funding mechanism, the CRTC said.

The chairman of the CRTC, Pierre Blais, commented that high quality and reliable digital connectivity is “essential” for the country’s economic prosperity and the quality of life of Canadians, adding that it is not an issue that can be solved by the CRTC alone. It is competition among providers in the marketplace that can best address the issue of affordability, while governments must do their part to fill gaps in “digital literacy.”

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