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The fate of affordable access to next-generation Internet will be decided this week.

This week the the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is expected to announce a major decision that will significantly impact whether or not Canadians have access to a variety of affordable Internet services independent of Big Telecom, including next-generation fibre. Back in December, your OpenMedia team presented your views on the future of Canada’s Internet to key decision-makers at CRTC headquarters in Gatineau, Quebec (be sure to check out the video, report-back, and full transcript). At the time, we outlined three major demands on behalf of Internet users across the country:

  1. First, we demanded the CRTC create fair rules that would allow smaller independent service providers (such as TekSavvy, Distributel, or others listed here) to gain cost-based, reasonable access to digital infrastructure (especially fibre Internet) that is currently held hostage by Canada’s Big Telecom giants.

  2. Second, we asked the Commission to take into account the lived experience of everyday Canadians when making decisions about the future of our Internet. This means looking at factors like affordability, speed, data caps, market concentration, quality of service, and others.

  3. Third, we urged decision-makers to consider breaking up Canada’s Big Telecom cartel by splitting off their infrastructure as an effective, long-term solution to accessible and affordable broadband Internet across Canada.

If the CRTC commits to anything less than these major asks, then they’re going to have some explaining to do to the over 30,000 Canadians who participated in this hearing, and the dozens of independent ISPs across the country who are working hard to increase choice and offer innovative services to us.

At the end of the day, what Internet users in this country want is access to a wider range of affordable, world-class Internet services in a decentralized marketplace. Based on our conversations with over half a million Canadians, the outcome of this hearing must be fair rules to allow independent ISPs to sell affordable services throughout the country. As Liviu Raileanu of Saint-Hubert, Québec, says:

"Working in a small, young company, the internet has become the backbone of our daily activities. We rely on internet services and the cloud for much of our business, and our small, independent ISP has been very helpful, both with a decent price and support. Small high tech firms need fast and inexpensive internet to create jobs for young people."

There’s no doubt that we increasingly rely on the Internet as an essential part of our daily lives. At any time of day the Internet can let you pay your bills, get a job, sign up for a course, – you can even meet the love of your life online. And all of this is essential to stay connected with today’s economy and social world.

But during the hearing, it was amusing to listen to Canada’s Big Telecom giants argue, “Everything’s fine! Nothing to see here folks! The speed people have access to today reflects the speeds that most people need!”

This is absurd. Once affordable, next-generation fibre Internet is available there’s no doubt that Canadians will leap eagerly into the new technology, the same way they did when we transitioned from dial-up to broadband like cable and DSL. The capabilities of tomorrow’s Internet will be a far cry from those Internet of today’s – and the sooner we can make that transition affordable, the sooner we can make the Internet’s future a reality. As we said in our presentation to the CRTC:

“The Internet is presumptively viewed as a public utility by the Canadians that we talk to every single day. As such, the closer the Commission gets to making the wholesale services framework match this reality, the better.”

That means creating fair, cost-based access rules for indie ISPs to access fibre, taking the lived experience of Canadians into account (not just listening to Big Telecom), and taking bold steps towards the long-term solution of busting up the Big Telecom giants.

And we need this soon. It’s uncontroversial at this point that Canadians are paying way too much for their Internet access. Canadian broadband prices are widely recognized as some of the highest in the industrialized world, with prices rising 11.3 percent amongst other Internet costs between 2013 and 2014, and another rise once again this year.

Big Telecom is definitely to blame. A report late last year from the Open Technology Institute examined 24 major cities for the "best deals" possible under $40 a month. Canada's Big Telecom providers (Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Bell) providers were nowhere to be seen. But TekSavvy, an independent ISP, was the only Canadian ISP to make the cut.

This is what we need to see more of, and we hope the CRTC sides with Canadians this week. Anything less will be setting Canada’s already dysfunctional telecom market up for even higher prices and less choice. For Canadians who rely on affordable, independent Internet services for employment, education, community or otherwise, this means everything.

We’ll be watching the decision closely and will report back as soon as we know anything.

In the meantime, decision-makers at the CRTC have just started a brand new historic consultation that will determine whether or not 100% of Canadians get access to faster, cheaper Internet – or whether we get left in the dust of our international counterparts.

If you haven’t already, be sure to speak out for affordable world-class Internet at UnblockCanada.ca.

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