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Federal Budget promises review of Canadian Internet policies, but disappoints in lack of new investment for Internet infrastructure

Limited funding to support Internet connectivity for low-income families is welcome, but budget will disappoint those hoping for the government to deliver on CRTC’s call for a National Broadband Strategy

March 22, 2017 — Major Internet policy battles lie ahead, after this year’s federal budget announced an upcoming review of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts, including addressing issues of net neutrality and cultural diversity, along with developing a Canadian intellectual property strategy.

The budget also announced no new funding for Internet infrastructure, instead merely repeating last year’s commitment to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities — itself largely a reiteration of a funding promise originally made by previous Conservative Industry Minister James Moore. Finance Minister Morneau did, however, promise $13.2 million over five years for an affordable access program for low-income families — however experts say this is a drop in the bucket of what is needed, and that an effective program would require between $70m-$400m in funding.

“The Internet is so integrated into our everyday lives and can provide access to more types of content and services than ever before — so it makes sense to review how our legislation can best support that aim,” said OpenMedia’s communications manager David Christopher. “The coming year is going to be crucial in shaping the future of Canada’s Internet, and it’s essential that the needs of individual Canadians are placed at the heart of these upcoming reviews.”

Christopher continued: “It’s a real letdown to see the government discuss innovation without any new funding commitment for Internet infrastructure, despite the CRTC’s historic ruling in December that every Canadian should have affordable, reliable Internet access. A solid foundation of connectivity is essential for innovation, and without meaningful investment in broadband infrastructure, underserved communities across Canada will continue to get left behind."

Other key points from today’s budget from a digital perspective include:

  • A review of Canada’s Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts, along with developing a new intellectual property strategy. The budget promises to “Support an open and transparent Internet that emphasizes the freedom to innovate, discuss and disrupt, including how we address issues of net neutrality, media and the creation of Canadian content.”

  • $13.2 million over five years for an affordable access program for low-income families. This represents less than one-fifth of the minimum that experts have recommended is needed to fund a ‘baseline program’, and one-thirtieth of a more ambitious initiative.

  • $50 million in new funding to teach children to code along with $29.5 million to expand digital learning opportunities.

  • $2 billion has been announced to support rural and northern communities to tackle challenges including “road access, Internet connectivity, and reducing a community’s dependence on diesel” — but the budget failed to make any specific commitment in terms of Internet investments for these communities.

OpenMedia is also disappointed at the apparent lack of any new funding for the Office of the CSE Commissioner, the agency tasked with reviewing the operations of Canada’s massive spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment. OCSEC warned recently that it was having trouble keeping pace with CSE’s activities. OCSEC operates with a budget of just $2 million, whereas the CSE’s budget this year is close to $600 million.

Canadians are calling on the federal government to build on the CRTC’s vision to create a national broadband strategy at act.openmedia.org/broadband-plan

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.

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