CRTC ruling a boon for rural broadband

Regulatory body mandates that high-speed internet is a basic service; raises download speed threshold.

A ruling from a national regulatory body is mandating that high-speed internet as a universal service for all Canadians in rural and urban areas.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced before Christmas that all Canadians must have access to internet speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) in download speeds with 10 Mbps upload speeds and be able to subscribe to a service with an unlimited data allowance.

In addition, the ruling also clarified that the latest mobile wireless technology should be available not just in homes and businesses, but on as many major transportation roads as possible.

“The universal service objective can only be attained with the help of other stakeholders in the Canadian telecommunications landscape. A variety of stakeholders have already undertaken efforts to address these issues,” reads the ruling, which can be found on the CRTC website.

“For example, the Government of Canada has announced funding to improve the availability of broadband Internet access services across the country. In addition, provincial and municipal governments across the country are devoting financial resources to broadband Internet access services, and the private sector is investing in improved and expanded network coverage.”

In addition to mandating the new service speeds, the ruling also established a fund that will distribute no more than $100 million in it’s first year. The amount will increase by $25 million over the following four years to reach an annual cap of $200 million.

Expanding rural broadband access has been an ongoing issue for RDEK board chair Rob Gay, who celebrated the ruling from the CRTC. Gay noted that the current target speeds for Canadians at only five Mbps is significantly lower than the new target.

The 2016 federal budget contained a $500 million Connect to Innovate pledge over five years to enhance broadband funding for rural communities and the new fund created by the CRTC ruling will only add to the pile available for grant applications, Gay said.

“[The CRTC ruling] was a game changer, because the Connect to Innovate program was trying to do what the feds have been doing for the last five years of bringing five Mbps to our homes,” Gay said.

“Well, all of the sudden the CRTC comes out and says we’re going to initiate an additional $750 million on top of this $500 million and we’re going to go with the Canadian standard from five Mbps to 50 Mbps, 10 times the speed.

“So that puts Canada on a whole new level, because at five Mbps, we were probably amongst the lowest in the world, not just in the developed countries, but a lot of Third-World countries have higher speeds, because they know their way out of poverty is through the internet.”

Gay also notes that the funding model has now changed; before it used to be that the federal government would only provide 50 per cent, but has now raised that threshold to 75 per cent.

Though much of the region has broadband access, it’s also about delivering a service for  the 21st century. Some areas have high speed internet, while others are lagging at below five Mbps.

“The area around St. Mary’s Lake, and the people that live on the road to St. Mary’s Lake, their speeds are so slow, they’ll [ISPs] will say they can supply three Mbps,” Gay said. “…There are those who have no service like those at St. Marys Lake, but then there are those people that have service that is quite a bit below the old national standard.”

People out near Fort Steele are still on dial-up internet, some homes in Wardner and Moyie have high-speed internet, while others do not. Gay says the RDEK is doing it’s best to keep track of the internet service levels that households are receiving in the area in order to have an idea of how to steer the development of broadband infrastructure.