GATINEAU, Que.—Canada’s telecom regulator has declared broadband internet access a basic service across the country, just like current landline telephone service.
But making full access to ultra-high-speed services a reality could cost tens of billions of dollars, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Wednesday that achieving the goal will take a coordinated effort by it, businesses and governments.
The aim is to ensure service providers (ISPs) offer internet services nationwide at speeds of at least 50 megabits per second for downloading data, and 10 Mbps for uploads, the CRTC said in announcing the new targets.
Currently, about 82 per cent of households and businesses receive that level of service. The CRTC wants that increased to 90 per cent by 2021 and to 100 per cent within 10 to 15 years.
ISPs will also be required to offer unlimited data options for fixed broadband services.
As well, the most advanced mobile wireless service should be made available to all households and businesses throughout Canada, as well as along all major Canadian roads, the regulator said.
“Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.
“The availability of broadband internet, however, is an issue that can’t be solved by the CRTC alone.”
Advocacy group OpenMedia, regularly one of the CRTC’s sharpest critics, was elated at Wednesday’s declaration.
“It’s a real game changer, especially for rural and under-served communities right across the country,” said OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher.
Telecom giant Rogers Inc. called the CRTC plan acceptable, pointing out that it already offers services at speeds of up to 20 times faster than the new target.
“While there are still many details to be worked out, we are encouraged by this reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard-to-reach areas of the country,” said Rogers senior vice president, regulatory, David Watt.
As part of the decision, telecom firms will have access to an escalating $750-million industry-sponsored fund over the next five years to invest in broadband infrastructure.
The first $100 million of that, to be spent within the next two years, will come from a fund that currently subsidizes telephone services in isolated regions.
In order to access the fund, telecom companies will have to guarantee a set price for service.
However, unlike the recent CRTC decision to cap the cost of basic TV services at $25 per month, the regulator isn’t proposing a cap on what ISPs can charge customers for basic broadband internet. Blais said the regulator would have to monitor pricing as new high-speed services are put in place.
The decision comes after an announcement last week by the federal government of a $500-million fund to build high-speed internet infrastructure in remote and rural communities.
Blais said industry players and all levels of government will have to take part in filling the service gaps that exist across the country — gaps which affect about two million people.
On the heels of the declaration, NDP finance critic Guy Caron called on the Trudeau Liberals to fast-track broadband development.
“The Liberal government must now work with industry to ensure we meet these important goals at high speed,” said Caron, whose rural riding suffers from a lack of internet service choices.
The CRTC also ruled Wednesday that within the next six months, ISPs must provide customers with contracts that spell out: the services being provided, usage limits, minimum monthly charges and the full cost of data overage charges.
There were roughly 12 million residential internet service subscribers in Canada in 2015, up 3.3 per cent from the previous year, along with 30 million wireless subscribers.