By Josh Tabish
February 12, 2016
OpenMedia original article
We are fighting to ensure the Internet is fast and affordable for all Canadians
Sometimes, your OpenMedia team gets so busy fighting "Internet freedom fires” that we don’t always get to report back to our community on the work we’re doing as quickly as we’d like to.
Last Monday, February 1st, was an important deadline for input into the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) ongoing Review of basic telecommunications services proceeding, which began last spring.
In response, your OpenMedia team submitted a highly-detailed, 30-page expert submission outlining the priorities of our community in a way that will be impossible for decision-makers at the CRTC to ignore. You can read our full policy submission here:
You may have noticed mentions of this historic consultation in the press over the last week, including The Toronto Star’s Internet should be affordable for everyone (featuring yours truly), and the CBC’s Digital divide: Is high-speed internet access a luxury or a right?, which covered the great work of our friends at PIAC and ACORN Canada.
There is no doubt that the Internet is already viewed as an essential service. As Community Member Kris Oulton recently posted on Facebook:
“If you ask me… internet access has become a NECESSARY SERVICE. Much like a Telephone line, water and sewer lines, EMT, Police and Fire services are all considered NECESSARY Services.”
Rest assured your OpenMedia team is on the case with help from our expert telecommunications policy lead, Dr. David Ellis, and will be appearing at the public hearing at CRTC headquarters in April of this year.
We never could have made it this far without all your support. For those who would like a bit more background on our participation in the proceeding, read on below.
‘Review of Basic Telecommunications Services’: The Story So Far...
In a tightly-bound nutshell, the CRTC is reviewing whether Canada will define universal access to include affordable, world-class broadband Internet for 100% of the population. You may recall that last summer OpenMedia launched a campaign about this at https://UnblockCanada.ca, which aims to ensure that all Canadians have affordable, next-generation service.
During the first stage of the proceeding, more than 25,000 members of the OpenMedia community had their views submitted to the CRTC through this campaign. In doing so, these pro-Internet advocates have directly called on federal policymakers to provide “affordable, world-class broadband Internet for all Canadians as soon as possible”. And since this initial intervention, an additional 11,835 Canadians have endorsed our campaign, bringing the grand total to 36,421 at the time of writing.
Later, during the fall and winter interrogatory phases of this proceeding (where intervenors have the opportunity to ask questions of all participants), OpenMedia attempted to elicit evidence from six of the larger Internet service providers, in particular their internal performance estimates on the proportion of connections that fall outside the Commission’s 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload targets during the highest traffic period (6pm to midnight).
Unfortunately, none of the respondents – which included the likes of Bell, Telus, Rogers, and Shaw – willingly provided this important information about their operations, even though OpenMedia suggested they could do so in confidence to the Commission.
We have since argued that, without this information, it will be very difficult if not impossible for the Commission to evaluate the effectiveness of its existing policies and to craft new policies that will help achieve the objectives of the Telecommunications Act – especially since our community regularly tells us how often Big Telecom’s “advertised” speeds don’t live up to their promises in the real world.
What We’ve Said in our Latest Submission
For nearly a decade, OpenMedia has been on the front lines listening to individual Canadians and businesses about how to strengthen and improve access to reliable and affordable Internet services. To address concerns about poor service, and the high price of accessing the Internet, we have worked to increase awareness among policymakers and the public-at-large about these realities.
Our latest submission to the CRTC is one of our best recent efforts to illustrate the priorities of everyday Canadians who have spoken out through any of our Access campaigns over the past 8 years, and, most recently, our Unblock Canada campaign.
In our detailed submission, we outline ten recommendations to the CRTC. While I recommend you consult the full document for greater detail and supporting rationale, I have provided an excerpt of our recommendations (slightly modified from the original for simplicity) below for your reading pleasure.
OpenMedia argues that the CRTC should:
- Recognize that broadband access is already viewed as an essential service by most Canadians, and therefore include Internet in the Commission’s basic service framework.
- Ensure that all service providers offer at least one Internet plan that includes a minimum service quality guarantee at all times of day for all applications, and is reasonably priced.
- Set aspirational speed targets on par with our international counterparts, such as the U.S.’s minimum standard of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
- Ensure that indicators of performance are drawn from actual, real-world performance measurements, rather than advertised “up to” speeds.
- Phase out data caps. Broadband service should be differentiated on the basis of speed, price, and actual, real-world quality of service – not usage.
- Build on suggestions by the Affordable Access Coalition and other parties to adopt a multipronged funding mechanism to address access and affordability problems facing rural Canadians, and low-income residents in urban centres.
- Require open access and service quality guarantees from all companies receiving public funds for new or expanded broadband infrastructure.
- Ensure public funds are only used to deploy blazing-fast fibre networks, as well as advanced wireless networks where deployment of fixed fibre access is limited.
- Revisit parts of the Commission’s previous ruling on wholesale Internet access that could hurt Internet speed quality in rural and suburban communities in the long-term.
- Proceed carefully in phasing out basic service obligations on legacy services before implementing a robust basic service framework for broadband access that will provide the network resources Canadians consider essential for their social, cultural, and economic activities.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As we see it, the CRTC faces a fork in the road: it can either set out effective rules that ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable, world-class Internet; or it can allow Big Telecom giants to in effect regulate our market through high prices, low speeds, oppressive data caps, and a troubling digital divide. The outstanding question is: Will the CRTC listen to Canadians, or cave to Big Telecom?
On our end, OpenMedia will appear at the oral hearing to support our position and speak on behalf of the over 36,000 Canadians who have shared their perspectives with us in April, so stay tuned for updates.