CRTC rules high-speed Internet an essential service for all Canadians

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December, 2016

Today the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decided that high-speed internet should be deemed an essential service for all Canadians. They will invest up to $750-million over five years in expanding broadband access to remote parts of the country.

Indigenous communities currently face tremendous barriers in accessing high-speed broadband. The CRTC’s decision has the potential to lessen the existing digital divide in Canada and increase access to essential services for Indigenous communities across the country.

Broadband is a service that has long been driven by the forces of the market, and oftentimes it simply has not been profitable for the major telecoms to extend a network to a small Indigenous community. This common issue is faced by rural and remote communities, as well as communities in highly urbanized areas where the number of added users may not result in the necessary profit margins to make an expansion project feasible.

Access to high-speed broadband opens Indigenous communities, particularly those in rural and remote areas, to a range of benefits and enhanced services in the areas of:

Employment: Access to a broadband network opens up members of rural and remote communities to a range of information and services supporting employment opportunities. Reliable access also provides an opportunity to gain employment without relocation for positions that can be done remotely.

Economic Development: A high-speed internet connection is essential in this fast-paced economy. Access to a robust broadband network allows Indigenous communities to remain competitive in the market as well as to support them to be responsive to economic development opportunities.

Governance: Many Indigenous communities utilize telecommunication to ensure inclusiveness. Dispersed members are able to connect with their government officials and when there is an effective network in place. Additionally, with a reliable broadband network in place, government officials are not forced to travel in order to discuss important regional issues.

Education: Many young people living in rural and remote communities are forced to leave their families and their homes in order to pursue a high school education. E-learning offers an alternative and provides the potential for youth to remain in their homes while they complete their education, allowing them to remain connected to their families, culture, and community. It also creates opportunities for access to other forms of education and skills training such as adult basic education and post-secondary courses.

Health Care: A high-speed broadband network within a community allows for the delivery of services such as telemedicine. Access to videoconferencing can allow for doctors and other essential health care providers to connect with patients in rural and remote communities who may not be able to travel to receive treatment.

“Today the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decided that high-speed internet should be deemed an essential service for all Canadians. They will invest up to $750-million over five years in expanding broadband access to remote parts of the country.”

The First Mile Connectivity Consortium has completed extensive research that has indicated that Indigenous communities across the country recognize the essential need of a robust broadband network to serve their community members and move towards self-governance. These communities are building and operating high capacity broadband networks within their communities that are capable of supporting the same level of service available in major centres. Oftentimes these networks face limitations due to a bottleneck at the point of connection between the network of the major telecom provider and the community’s own network. The CRTC’s decision today may be a critical step in addressing this key issue faced by Indigenous communities across the country.

Castlemain has long advocated for reliable broadband internet for every Indigenous community in Canada. We see the effect the lack of high-speed broadband can have, as almost all of our projects begin with extensive community consultation to support collective decision making and the advancement of self-governance in Indigenous communities. Barriers to communication tend to isolate the most vulnerable community members, whose experience should play a vital part of all decisions. We look forward to the implementation of today’s CRTC decision and hope that remote communities across the country can quickly see the benefits of broadband network expansion.

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