Our presentation to the CRTC: Affordable Internet for All Canadians
Our own Josh Tabish, Laura Tribe, and consultant David Ellis, are at the CRTC this morning, to call for affordable Internet for all Canadians. Here's what they have to say.
Review of basic telecommunications services
Prepared Remarks of OpenMedia
April 28, 2016
Before we begin, OpenMedia wishes to acknowledge the unceded Algonquin territory upon whose land we stand today for this important hearing.
Mr Chairman, Commissioners: Thank you for inviting us here today.
My name is Josh Tabish and I’m the Campaigns Director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that sees the Internet as an open place, equally accessible to everyone, that empowers people to build a more connected and collaborative world.
I am joined today by OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist, Ms. Laura Tribe to my left, and our policy consultant Dr. David Ellis, to my right.
I would like to thank the CRTC staff, especially Madame Secretary Jade Roy for all her help. I also wish to appreciate OpenMedia’s inspiring community, and amazing staff who made a number of sacrifices to let us be here today.
To begin our presentation, I’m going to give the floor to Laura.
Since 2008, OpenMedia has engaged hundreds of thousands of Canadians to identify citizen-driven priorities for a more equitable digital future. Through this process we have created two crowdsourced telecom reports, which propose common-sense telecom policies to remedy our dysfunctional Internet market.
In the present proceeding, nearly 45,000 members of our community endorsed an open letter asking that basic service in Canada “...must be defined to include affordable, world-class broadband Internet for 100% of the population.” Several thousand more provided unique testimonials. These citizens’ voices constitute what we believe was the largest source of public participation in this proceeding, and we urge the Commission to use their voices as a compass when making your final determinations.
As Heidi Daehler from Montreal, Quebec, said:
“Internet access has become a basic tool necessary for most people. Please do what you can to help it be accessible to all. Thank you.”
Or as Hugo Vaillancourt, from North West River, Newfoundland, put it:
“Do we want Canada to keep making the headlines about how we're one of the industrialized countries that pays the most for the worst Internet? Or do we want to be number one? It's all a matter of vision, in the end.”
After reviewing our community’s contributions and placing them on the public record, OpenMedia consulted with Dr. Ellis to develop a strategy consistent with the grassroots priorities identified.
We are here to ensure 100% of Canadians have both fixed and mobile broadband access to the Internet that is affordable, high-quality and offered by a wide range of service providers.
A handful of parties in this proceeding claim there is no problem. Yet scores of intervenors such as the Affordable Access Coalition, Media Access Canada, and the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus and Rural Network, have all convincingly demonstrated that Canada’s digital divide crosses urban-rural boundaries.
Put simply: This is not just a rural problem, or a problem of the north. This is a national problem and it calls for a national solution.
As powerful, courageous testimony from ACORN members and disabilities stakeholders reminds us, Canada's digital divide doesn't just prevent marginalized groups from accessing the Internet. This divide actually perpetuates and – worse yet – accentuates problems of inequality. This gap between “digital-haves” and “digital-have-nots” is a glaring problem the Commission must address.
And now I turn the floor over to David, to outline some forward-looking considerations for the Internet in Canada.
Thank you, Laura. I’d like to make a brief comment about four topics.
First, whatever the outcome of this proceeding, there should be no further support for outdated legacy networks. Cable’s market lead over DSL is an old story. But we decided to raise this issue today after hearing SaskTel suggest on Monday that their 5/1 platform is perfectly adequate for their customers’ needs. We’re concerned some carriers will fight to keep DSL running even at the expense of losing more customers to cable. DSL is now over 10 years old and can no longer meet the needs of Canadian consumers.
Second, we believe the most significant price issue in Canada’s ISP market is the gradual disappearance of low-cost plans. In early markets, when broadband is a luxury product, service providers offer a wide range of prices to acquire market share. As penetration rises, however, broadband becomes a necessity and demand becomes inelastic to price: in other words, consumers will keep buying even as prices rise. Then providers no longer need to offer low-cost plans – exactly what has happened in Canada. And exactly why adoption is not a proxy for affordability.
Third, we believe the CRTC must keep careful track of customer demand, and encourage investment in network growth to meet that demand. Cisco estimates that over the 2014-2019 period, Canada’s IP traffic will increase at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22%. Canada’s actual Internet traffic – a large portion of all IP traffic – is itself growing at a CAGR of 27%. This growth is reflected in the number of networked devices used by Canadians, which will double from 185 million to 382 million.
Finally, the results from the Commission’s two broadband surveys point to a critical, but little-discussed issue: the information deficit that afflicts end-users.
In the main survey, 50% of respondents say they have no idea what they’re paying for. I believe that figure greatly under-represents the real problem. Other research suggests as many as 80% of broadband customers are in the dark about their own service speeds. This information challenge extends to all aspects of the subscriber relationship with ISPs, which make little effort to help their customers understand how they can get the best out of their Internet access – or what it would take to improve their service and save money.
The Commission should consider carefully what this information deficit means for claims by the incumbents that their customers are satisfied with under-performing 5/1 service, or that there’s no “demand” for higher speeds. This is another indication of the need for the Commission to play a greater role in assessing what consumers need and whether ISPs are meeting that demand.
I hope we’ll have time to discuss these issues further, but for now I’ll hand back the floor to Josh.
Commissioners, evidence over the past three weeks confirms that market forces alone continue to be inadequate to provide “reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality, accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada.” Indeed, Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for middle of the road service.
Mr. Chairman, on April 19 you asked presenters to focus on the task of figuring out what to do. You posed three important questions to us, which we would now like to address.
Your first question: Where are there gaps in access to connectivity?
As we just heard, low cost options have disappeared in Canada. As the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project (CMCRP) pointed out, nearly 1 in 5 of all households have no residential Internet connection, and 1 in 3 have no mobile phone. Unserved and underserved areas exist all across Canada.
To demonstrate this, we created a short documentary detailing the access gaps of Bowen Island, a small community just off the coast of Vancouver. The full video can be found at https://UnblockCanada.ca/Bowen.
Your second question: Given those gaps, what are the best strategies in order to close or eliminate them?
First, you must mandate that all carriers offer a reasonably priced 5/5 basic broadband plan with minimum speed guarantees. Second, ensure policy is based on real-world performance. And finally, create a sustainable funding mechanism drawn from the large operators to encourage both fixed and mobile broadband deployment with open access rules.
Which brings me to your third question, Mr. Chairman: Who is in the best position to implement those strategies? Right now, the answer is you – the CRTC in coordination with others.
The Commission has the mandate. You’ve said yourself, this “may very well be the last best chance to get it right.” And we agree. And our fellow intervenors, and the nearly 45,000 OpenMedia community members who have spoken out through our campaign have put this issue on the table and made your path very clear.
And, I’ll make you a promise. If you get this right, and plant a bold flag for Canada’s Internet, the OpenMedia community will do everything in its power to drag the federal government – kicking and screaming, if that’s what it takes – into a coordinated national broadband strategy that will build on your vision and ensure every Canadian has access to broadband Internet services.
Now, as we approach the end of this proceeding, a theme has clearly emerged that we can’t afford to overlook. The Internet's importance for markets and the digital economy is only part of the story. This is about something bigger.
At OpenMedia, we believe the Internet is crucial infrastructure for democracy.
As we’ve heard for weeks, government consultation, access to education, and public services – to name a few – are increasingly happening online. Citizen engagement online is a lot more than sending emails and online banking. And we need standards that reflect that.
The OpenMedia community is calling for faster, cheaper Internet for 100% of Canadians.
Is our vision for Canada’s digital future too good to be true? No. Absolutely not. Democratic necessities are never too good to be true.
You asked us to bring the voices of Canadians. We did so, and we sincerely hope that you listen to them.
We know it won't be easy. And we know that it won't happen overnight. But it’s time for bold action.
Thank you for your time today, and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have.