CRTC seeking submissions on rural and remote broadband service

People in rural and remote locations across Canada are familiar with the challenges related to telecommunications connectivity and the wide gap in the level of services when compared with urban centres.  While it is easy to be frustrated by the challenges, it is important to recognize when the opportunity to do something presents itself.  That is the case with the process the CRTC has undertaken to determine how it will develop and carry out the broadband funding regime it has committed to.

The growth in telecommunications along with the clout that sector carries in the Canadian economy highlight how important these services have become in our modern life.  In a best case scenario, new technology can be transformative allowing people to overcome barriers, but in rural and northern Canada the capacity to employ these technologies is itself the barrier.  This is why the CRTC has decided it will establish a new funding mechanism designed to close the gap in connectivity. 

The plan is to place a service charge on existing customers to finance capacity growth which is similar to how telephone services were brought to rural and remote areas.  The CRTC plans to work in concert with other efforts to increase connectivity and expects applicants to secure government funding, provide some funding of their own, and show how services would not be increased without Commission assistance.  This is why it is vitally important for the government to be committed to increasing rural and northern services and to back that up with real infrastructure dollars.

All of the Commission’s investigative work is expected to take place at arm’s length so that proposals can be judged on their merit.  They are expected to pursue the successful model of non-profit, third party administration that is developed using a corporate structure.  Safeguards to ensure the fund is distributed fairly will include the establishment of an audit committee and a fairness monitor.  If all goes according to plan, the third party board will make recommendations based on applications and the Commission will make the final decision on which projects will receive funding.

Eligibility will be based on criteria related to geography and current service.  They will attempt to avoid using fund money for underserved areas close to urban centres where the market can reasonably be expected to fill any gaps.  Currently about 82% of Canadians have access to broadband Internet service that meets one of the criteria (download or upload speeds, and the yet to be defined minimum quality of service) for achieving the broadband portion of the objective.  Once an area is determined to be underserved, those applications are expected to be given more weight.

There is far more contained in the CRTC document than can be condensed to match this format and I would encourage any interested parties and communities to make themselves familiar with the contents which can be found online at: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2017/2017-112.htm 

Unlike parliamentary committees which cap submissions, and limit testimony, the CRTC is inviting submissions from the public.  It is important for interested persons to file an intervention with the Commission by June 28, 2017.  Replies to interventions must be filed by July 26, 2017, and final submissions must be received by November 29, 2017.  I encourage anyone interested to make themselves familiar with the process which is explained in the document.