On Wednesday, The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the country's federal telecommunications regulator, announced its decision that all citizens should be connected to high-speed broadband.
This is big news because despite years of promises, moving targets, and half-baked programs, Canada's internet remains slow and expensive compared to the rest of the developed world. Moreover, broadband access in Northern and rural areas, including First Nations communities, remains a persistent problem.
"We are establishing as a universal service objective that Canadians in remote and rural areas, as well as urban centres, should have access to voice services and broadband internet access services on fixed and mobile wireless networks," CRTC commissioner Jean-Pierre Blais said in a press conference.
The CRTC will now mandate that Canadian telecoms offer an unlimited data option for customers. The regulator is also upgrading its previous, sorely inadequate targets of 5 megabits download speed and 1 megabit upload speed by tenfold. The new targets will be 50 megabits download speed, and 10 megabits upload speed.
"These goals are ambitious and they will not be easy to achieve—and they will cost money," said Blais. "But we have no choice."
It's a decision that will have a "generational impact," he continued. And the government can't "rely on market forces" alone to solve these issues, as he acknowledged. The CRTC is mandating that by July 2017, all service providers must offer and promote packages that conform to the new guidelines.
However, critics have noted that the CRTC can't complete the job by itself. Total connectivity would require assistance from the government and from industry to make the necessary financial and infrastructural investments.
Last week, the Liberal government pledged $500 million to bring high-speed internet to 300 rural communities by 2021. But connecting the whole country is an endeavour expected to run into the billions, advocacy group OpenMedia has contended. For its part, the CRTC has also committed to spending $750 million over five years.
In isolated communities, not having a proper internet connection can mean losing access to educational or medical resources. The infrastructure is so fragile that, in some places, a single satellite outage can mean a total connectivity blackout.
It's clear that something needs to be done—and, as a poll this year showed, rural Canadians think the government should be the ones to step up and do it. Although the CRTC's ruling may lack the teeth that some critics desire, it's a good first step.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article described the new speed targets as being 50 megabits upload speed, and 10 megabits download speed. This is in fact the reverse of what is being proposed—that being, 50 megabits download speed, and 10 megabits upload speed. This article has been updated to reflect this information.