Canada starts consultation about subsidy for broadband coverage

27 April 2017 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Canada’s media and telecoms regulator has started a consultation on how it should run a new fund to bring broadband to poorly served areas.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said it has C$750 million (US $553 million) to spend over the next five years. The regulator said in December 2016 that broadband internet is now a basic service, and the fund replaces previous subsidies for basic phone connections.

The commission said it “seeks to ensure that all Canadians have access to a world class communication system” and wants to have “reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada”.

The CRTC started a consultation this week on how the money should be allocated, how the fund should be managed and what guidelines it should have. The organisation has asked for contributions and comments by 28 June.

The money will be spent on voice and broadband internet access via both fixed and mobile networks.

Meanwhile CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais has defended the regulator’s action to make Canada’s incumbents share their fibre infrastructure with rival companies on a wholesale basis.

He said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this week that companies had told the CRTC that this policy would reduce their investment in fibre, yet said at least one had told investors that they would continue to invest in fibre networks.

“Companies came to our hearing and advocated that we should not have unbundling of fibre. They were saying it would slow down investment, they would not go forth as much, it was different from the mandatory access we had given in the past,” said Blais, speaking to MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative and its Communications Futures Program.

“In the end, we decided we were going to mandate unbundling even on fibre,” said Blais, who finishes his first five-year term shortly. No announcement has been made about whether he will stay on for a second term.