Canada declares 50Mbps high-speed broadband a basic service for all citizens

23 Dec 2016

If a big country like Canada with a dispersed rural population can do it, surely Ireland and the UK can do it too, and give high-speed broadband to all citizens. Image: Bjoern Alberts/Shutterstock

In a wake-up call for the UK and Ireland, Canada’s telecoms regulator CRTC has declared high-speed broadband an essential service, and has mandated 50Mbps down and 10Mbps up for all citizens.

Putting its money where its mouth is, the forward-thinking Canadian government has created a $750m fund to subsidise rural roll-out across a geography that makes even the most remote and rural part of Kerry look like a walk in the park.

Yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that all residents of Canada are entitled to high-quality voice and broadband services on fixed and mobile wireless networks.

‘The future of our economy, our prosperity, our society – indeed the future of every citizen – requires us to set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century’

The $750m fund will bring broadband infrastructure to rural and remote areas of Canada over the next five years.

It has ambitious speed targets of 50Mbps down and 10Mbps up, and requires operators to offer residents an unlimited data plan.

The plan is similar in scope to Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, which is also tackling an urban-rural digital divide, but which currently has lesser speed ambitions of 30Mbps down and 6Mbps up.

Announcing the new broadband goals, the chairman of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais, said: “These goals are ambitious, they will not be easy to achieve and they will cost money. But we have no choice.

“The future of our economy, our prosperity, our society – indeed the future of every citizen – requires us to set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century.”

The voice of ambition and vision

Unlike the Irish National Broadband Strategy, which has descended into a complicated procurement process held up by delays and negotiations rather than the dynamic vision it purported to be at the beginning, the strident language used by the CRTC is a clarion call for regulators and governments everywhere to step up to the plate.

Effectively, the Canadian state is saying that broadband internet access services are necessary to the quality of life for Canadians.

And it is ordering, not asking, operators to do their duty: “No later than six months from today, service providers should ensure that contracts are written in clear and plain language, and should make available online tools so consumers can easily manage their data usage.

“Also, all wireless service providers will have to offer and publicise, no later than six months from today, mobile service packages that meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities.”

Blais said in a statement that the provision of broadband is an economic necessity and his language echoes that of Finland, where internet access is considered a basic human right.

“Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” Blais said.

“Canadians who participated during our process told us that no matter where they live or work in our vast country — whether in a small town in northern Yukon, a rural area of eastern Quebec or in downtown Calgary — everyone needs access to high-quality fixed internet and mobile services. We are doing our part to bring broadband services to rural and remote communities.

“The availability of broadband internet, however, is an issue that can’t be solved by the CRTC alone. All players in the Canadian communications landscape will need to do their part to ensure Canadians have access to the services they need to participate in the digital economy.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years