December 30, 2016
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In Historic Decision, Canada Declares Internet Access a Fundamental Right for All

National telecom agency promises to connect all Canadians, from Quebec to Yukon, to high-speed broadband

By Lauren McCauley,

In what is being described as a "historic" decision that will have a significant impact, particularly on the lives of those living in rural and First Nations communities, Canada's telecom agency on Wednesday issued a new rule declaring high-speed internet a basic service "necessary to the quality of life" of all Canadians.

"The future of our economy, our prosperity, and 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," said Jean-Pierre Blais, chair of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), at a news conference. "These goals are ambitious. They will not be easy to achieve and they will cost money. But we have no choice."

Under the new broadband strategy, the CRTC aims to provide 100 percent of Canadians access to reliable, world-class mobile and fixed Internet services, which will be available with an unlimited data option.

The agency has set the network speed target at 50 Mbps download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed. As of 2015, 82 percent of Canadians had access to that caliber of broadband.

In comparison, the United States' Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines "broadband" as 25 Mbps download and just 3 Mbps upload.

Further, the CRTC has set up a fund to support projects in areas that do not meet those targets, which will provide an additional $750 million above current government spending over five years.

"Canadians asked for universal internet access, support for rural communities, world-class speeds, unlimited data options, and minimum guarantees for the quality of their Internet," said Josh Tabish, campaigns director for OpenMedia, which led a citizen movement calling for internet as a basic service.

"We won it all, and there's no reason why other nations across the world can't do the same," Tabish observed, adding that he hopes Canada's action is replicated elsewhere.

"Countries all over the world face many of the same challenges as Canada, especially when it comes to delivering reliable, high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities," he said. "These challenges can be surmounted, but it will take real political will to do so. I believe [the] ruling will inspire people across the globe and help pressure decision-makers to do the right thing and ensure all their citizens can benefit from what the Internet can offer."

Many observers contrasted the CRTC's new declaration to the United States, where the incoming president is likely to roll-back open internet provisions as well as other basic services.

Geoff White, an attorney with the public interest group Affordable Access Coalition, explained that the ruling "stopped short of adopting proposals the coalition put forth to address affordability issues, such as setting a low price for a basic broadband plan or establishing monthly affordability subsidies for low-income households," the Globe and Mail reported. Nonetheless, he called the decision "important and transformational."

Indeed, Derek Wentzell, a community economic development consultant, declared the new program a "game changer" for remote First Nations.

The decision draws from a recent review of the nation's basic telecom services, which included public opinion polling. According to Blais, "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."

He added, "High quality and reliable digital connectivity is essential for the quality of life of Canadians and Canada's economic prosperity."


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