Last year, in a bombshell decision, Canada's federal telecom regulator set universal internet access for all citizens as the country's new connectivity goal. At the time, the regulator said that achieving this would cost money, and advocacy group OpenMedia contended that the cost would run into the billions. The Canadian government's budget for 2017, released on Wednesday, completely drops the ball on this point, putting the kibosh on a plan that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hoped would have a "generational impact." In isolated northern regions, no internet connection can mean no access to medical or educational resources, not to mention entertainment.
The federal budget is sorely lacking in measures to close the connectivity gap between rural and urban populations—which has persisted in the country for years—and commits no new funding to that cause. In a small ray of sunshine, the budget states that the government will work with the CRTC to "coordinate targets and to establish effective ways to meet them." But vague allusions to collaboration don't build infrastructure; money does.
"It's really disappointing to see that no new infrastructure funding for internet, given that it's been three months since the CRTC's decision," said David Christopher, spokesperson for OpenMedia, in an interview. "If we're going to meet those requirements—that every Canadian should have high speed internet—we need all stakeholders to step up to the plate. The government missed the opportunity to do that."
It's tough to see how the ambitious goals of the CRTC can be accomplished without a significant amount of new funding, especially since they would require new infrastructure to be built in isolated northern areas with speeds 10 times faster than the current minimum. Indeed, after years of waffling, moving targets, and unfulfilled promises, the CRTC's ruling was massively ambitious and forward-looking.
For now, at least, it appears as though the federal government isn't willing to give the regulator the support it needs. For a budget so ostensibly focused on "innovation," preventing people from accessing online opportunities and resources is a funny way to show it.
With files from Bryson Masse.
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