Telecoms industry regulator the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is embarking on a wide-ranging review of what exactly constitutes a ‘basic level of telecommunications services’, with a particular focus on whether high speed broadband internet should now be included in the definition. Via a two-phase public consultation in 2015, culminating in a public hearing in April 2016, the CRTC intends to examine thoroughly the issue of whether or not broadband should be considered a basic telecoms service in rural and remote areas. The Globe and Mail newspaper reports that, if included, the CRTC would look to implement a new funding structure to subsidise the rollout of high speed internet access services in areas deemed to be underdeveloped.
The review announcement is seemingly overdue. The last one took place in May 2011 and concluded that the deployment of high speed infrastructure in rural areas should be left to market forces – albeit supplemented by some targeted government funding. However, at the time it opted against setting up a specific fund to cater for the most remote communities and only set out a commitment that all Canadians should have access to broadband speeds of 5Mbps/1Mbps (down/upload) by end-2015.
The paper notes though that CRTC commissioner Jean-Pierre Blais has since suggested that access to high speed services could be considered a basic service. ‘Deciding exactly what constitutes a basic service is open to interpretation, of course. Years ago, it meant having a basic telephone line,’ he is quoted as saying in a 2013 speech. ‘In light of the growing importance of broadband to all aspects of Canadians’ lives, I can foresee the day when universal access to broadband will form part of the definition.’