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Connecting Canadians an Essential Service

January 7, 2017 8:06 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Computer Modem

NEEPAWA, Man. — Rural Canadians got some good news just before Christmas — better broadband coverage is coming. On December 21, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced that broadband Internet is now considered a basic service. The move puts high-speed internet into the same category as landline telephones.

The change came following a year and half of public consultations and resulted in new targets for service under sub-section 46.5(1) of the Telecommunications Act. The new targets apply to both fixed and mobile broadband services. For fixed broadband services, the target is access to an unlimited data option as well as minimum speeds of 50 megabits per second for download and 10 megabits per second for upload. For mobile broadband services, the target is access to the latest mobile wireless technology, not only in homes and businesses, but also along major Canadian transportation corridors.

The CRTC estimates that about 82 percent of Canadian households and businesses already receive the level of broadband service targeted. They want that number increased to 90 percent by 2021 and to 100 percent within 10 to 15 years.

For those who live in towns and cities, this might not seem like a big deal, but the reality is that even within our coverage area, there are people who don’t have access to this level of service. For many rural Canadians, poor or non-existent access to high-speed Internet is reality.

Broadband Internet has permeated our lives so much that we often forget just how reliant upon it we are. For many rural Canadians, their homes are their places of business and conducting business without broadband Internet is almost impossible. High-speed Internet gives farmers and other business owners access to pricing information, market research and the ability to connect with a wide range of customers and suppliers around the world. The Internet has become indispensable for conducting research, for education, business or personal planning. Access to data services is also extremely important to the disabled, especially the hearing impaired.

Those who don’t have access to CRTC’s newly mandated level of service live in rural or remote communities, places where having access to the greater world becomes much more important. The ability to work or learn remotely or access expert advice from larger centres becomes infinitely more important when these resources aren’t available in person nearby.

The necessary infrastructure updates will be partially funded by a new $750 million fund. This money can be accessed over the next five years by Internet service providers who are undertaking projects to build or upgrade infrastructure in underserved areas. The fund, which is similar to one established to support landline infrastructure, is funded by providers. Earlier in December, the federal government announced another program, it which would be investing up to $500 million to bring high-speed, broadband Internet access to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021.

Expanding mobile service is also big news for rural Manitobans. Poor service isn’t just an issue in many rural areas, there are also sections of the Highway 1 in Manitoba that, last time I checked, had no service. Improved coverage will offer a real improvement in safety and security for rural Canadians.

At a time when many people are moving away from traditional landlines, I’m glad to see that the CRTC has recognized that today, the telephone isn’t the form of communication most Canadians rely upon to reach the outside world and conduct business. The new targets don’t set a minimum price, as the CRTC has done with cable packages, but it’s a start. The reality is that for many rural Canadians, just having access is something to be celebrated.