Auditor General finds CRTC and ISED are failing to track affordability, a key barrier to connectivity
Digital divide persists in Indigenous and remote communities, with connectivity investments behind schedule.
March 27, 2023 — Today the Auditor General released its report on Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas in Canada, which shows the stark contrast between urban and remote connectivity across the country. The audit examined if the programs run by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) had improved the accessibility, affordability, and quality of high-speed Internet and mobile cellular connectivity for Canadians in rural and remote areas.
The report found that connectivity is significantly lagging in these areas, and that key indicators such as cost of services are not even being adequately measured by ISED or the CRTC. The government’s own National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map, used to identify who is eligible for funding, was also found to be both inaccurate and out of date.
“Today’s report puts numbers to something rural, remote and Indigenous people in Canada know far too well: their communities are being left behind on connectivity,” said OpenMedia Executive Director Laura Tribe. “Affordable, quality Internet connectivity continues to be a privilege out of reach for many of us outside of large urban areas. Many of us can’t get decent service at any price, and even where broadband service is available, it is often far too expensive. This is especially true in remote areas, with limited choice of providers, and a heavy reliance on expensive satellite technologies. The fact that those bodies actively funding connectivity cannot track or report on affordability, a key barrier to access, is a huge gap. The government and CRTC must ensure that both connectivity and affordability are key cornerstones to their funding for Internet buildout.”
Key takeaways from the report:
- Access to Internet and mobile services is not equal for all Canadians.
- As of 2021, 90.9% of households had access to minimum connection speeds across Canada. But only 42.9% of households on First Nations reserves had access at those speeds, and only 59.5% of households in rural and remote areas had access at those speeds.
- Neither ISED nor the CRTC are currently measuring affordability – a key barrier to connectivity and access.
- Neither ISED nor the CRTC could tell Canadians whether the affordability of Internet and mobile cellular connectivity had improved over the past two years.
- Only 39.5% of available connectivity funding had been distributed by January 2023 ($949 million of the $2.4 billion available); only 26% of the CRTC’s Broadband Fund and 25% of the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund had been disbursed.
- The government’s National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map was found to not only be out-of-date, but also sometimes inaccurate. In some cases, this meant that households or communities without coverage could be shown to have coverage.