Underwhelming rural broadband announcement underlines need for National Broadband Strategy to bring rural Canadians up to speed
Internet advocates warn that billions will need to be invested in open access networks to ensure basic Internet access for rural and remote Canadians.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has outlined plans to invest $500 million over the next five years in rural broadband, a promise previously made in the March budget. Internet advocates at OpenMedia say that while any investment is welcome, much more is needed, and that Canada requires a comprehensive National Broadband Strategy to ensure rural and remote Canadians can catch up.
Minister Bains’ announcement comes ahead of next week’s high-profile decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on its Review of Basic Telecommunications Services. CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais called for a national strategy earlier this year. OpenMedia and many other organizations have urged the CRTC to entrench high-speed broadband as a basic, affordable service, like telephone access, for all Canadians, regardless of where they live.
While any investment is to be welcomed, this level of investment just won’t be enough to ensure all Canadians are able to access high-speed Internet at a fair price. What we need is a comprehensive National Broadband Strategy, rather than an underwhelming piecemeal approach.
For far too many rural Canadians, Internet access is either unavailable or unaffordable, due to a digital divide keeping almost one in five Canadians offline. This divide disproportional impacts low-income, rural, and indigenous Canadians who already face an uphill battle to participate fairly in our digital economy. Only a properly-funded national strategy can tackle such an entrenched problem.
OpenMedia believes a Digital Endowment fund of at least $2.2 billion is needed to ensure all Canadians have world-class, affordable Internet, and that it’s essential that local community groups, municipalities, and businesses are given an opportunity to access any new funds earmarked for broadband investment. The group also warns that any public investment should be in open access networks, not used to subsidize telecom giants.
Ensuring broadband Internet is an affordable, basic service is especially important because Canadians already face alarmingly high bills for telecom services — among the highest in the G7. The CRTC’s 2016 Communications Monitoring Report, released in late October, revealed skyrocketing data usage and ongoing price increases.
Over 45,000 Canadians are calling for faster, cheaper Internet service at UnblockCanada.ca