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Access 2 May 2018

The State of Broadband Connectivity in Canada’s Rural and Remote Regions

Katie Watson
By Katie WatsonPolicy Advisor

In April, the Canadian Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology presented the “Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide” to the House of Commons in order to make public their findings and recommendations from a study on broadband connectivity. (In May 2016, the committee adopted a motion to do a study on broadband connectivity, with the primary purpose of developing a plan to improve rural broadband and demonstrate the Internet’s effect on rural economies.) To create the report, the committee used information and conversations from seven meetings, as well as 50 oral and written submissions. Participants in this process represented businesses, small and large service providers, experts, and on-the-ground rural providers. The Internet Society applauds the committee’s use of a consultative process and its effort to provide concrete recommendations to the House of Commons to connect Canada’s rural and remote citizens.

In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) declared Internet access an essential service and set the minimum performance standard at 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. At the same time, it estimated that it will take between 10 and 15 years for the remaining 18% of Canadians to reach those minimums. But Canadians cannot wait that long.

In rural and remote areas of Canada, it is often extremely difficult and expensive to reach residents. As a result, community members end up paying high costs for very low speeds, vastly limiting the resources they are able to access online. As the world becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet for community engagement, educational resources, health and medicine, and economic opportunity, these communities run the risk of becoming even more isolated.

The report acknowledges that, while many efforts have been taken to address the digital divide in Canada, there is still much work to be done to connect rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. Participants offered a variety of suggestions to accomplish this important goal, including reallocating spectrum for rural and remote communities, increasing funding for connectivity initiatives, and making broadband deployment a necessary part of any infrastructure upgrades.

Ultimately, participants agreed that to close the digital divide in rural areas, local governments, First Nations, and other local stakeholders must be involved when developing deployment strategies. Their knowledge can be used to more effectively create and carry out connectivity initiatives.

Community networks are an important application of that local knowledge. As discussed at the first Indigenous Connectivity Summit, community networks have the potential to provide service where traditional or commercial services do not reach and are often critical for rural and Indigenous communities’ self-empowerment. Networks built by and for the community are able to more easily tailor to the community’s needs and lead to increased community stability.

The report includes recommendations to the CRTC and the Government of Canada, including addressing the challenges small and non-incumbent service providers face when attempting to access existing infrastructure to deploy broadband, ensuring funding programs are technology neutral, and including broadband accessibility issues in all federal programs. The commission also called on the Government of Canada to develop a much-needed, comprehensive rural broadband strategy through the multistakeholder process in collaboration with representatives from First Nations, local governments, civil society, and small and large service providers.

We applaud the committee for approaching rural and remote connectivity in an inclusive and collaborative manner. The report, and the recommendations it offers, are made stronger by the multiplicity of voices who contributed to its creation. We hope that the Government of Canada will continue to use this model to create a national broadband strategy and to carry out the committee’s other recommendations.

We also look forward to continuing to discuss these and other connectivity initiatives at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit this October in the Northwest Territories. Please stay tuned for more information about the event, and read about the last Indigenous Connectivity Summit here.

Let’s continue the conversation! Do you want to connect your Indigenous community or support Indigenous connectivity? The Indigenous Connectivity page includes ever-growing resources on topics including community networks, cultural preservation, and Indigenous-driven access. Our hope is for Indigenous communities all over the world to be connected. Join us!

Read the New York Times feature Hauling the Internet to an Ex-Soviet Outpost High in the Caucasus Mountains to see how others have done it.

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