EASTERN ONTARIO — Broadband is just as essential as telephone service in rural Canada, a fact officially recognized earlier this week by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in a move that will have far-reaching implications for both rural consumers and Internet providers.
And not just any broadband will do, anymore. Speeds must be 10 times faster than the 2011 standard.
Under the “universal service objective” announced by the CRTC on Dec. 21, Canadian broadband customers everywhere are supposed to get minimum download and upload speeds of 50 megabits and 10 megabits per second, respectively. The objective also blows away Canadian Internet companies’ penchant for data caps; consumers must at least have the option of unlimited data, under the new objective.
“We heard from Canadians that a download speed of 5 megabits per second and an upload speed of 1 megabit per second doesn’t cut it anymore. We heard that data caps often impede their capabilities in a data-hungry digital world. We heard that they need access to mobile wireless services at home and on the road,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, CRTC chairman.
Also expect cell phone carriers to roll out greater LTE coverage because the CRTC’s new objective also mandates consumer access to the latest mobile wireless technology “not only in homes and businesses, but also along major Canadian transportation corridors.”
The announcement — which includes a promise of federal funding to make it happen — has been cheered by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which has been advocating for improved cellular coverage in rural areas.
“On behalf of all rural residents across Eastern Ontario and those who travel to and from our region we applaud yesterday’s ruling by the CRTC making access to mobile broadband and high speed internet services an essential service,” said Peter Emon, chair of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC), in a Dec. 22 press release.
“It is what we had hoped they would do,” stated Dave Burton, chair of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN). “Together both of our organizations have been working hard over these past eight years to close the gaps in internet services across the whole of our region,” he added.
The CRTC initiative follows a year and a half of public ‘Let’s Talk Broadband’ consultations.
“When we made our submissions to the Commission last April, EORN urged them help ensure that rural people and rural businesses get the same type of access to high speed internet services that our urban neighbours enjoy,” Burton said. “We asked that the Commission also develop an ongoing fund to help organizations like ours to continue to work with the telecommunications industry and that is exactly what they have done.”
EORN estimates that about one-sixth of areas in rural Eastern Ontario with homes, businesses or major roads are located within a cellular dead zone. This lack of access to mobile calling and data is a risk to the region’s economic vitality, quality of life and public safety, according to the group.
EORN, which helped expand high-speed internet access in the region, is now seeking federal and provincial support for a public-private initiative valued at about $200 million. The project would cover some 99 per cent of the region, providing mobile access to 72,000 more homes and businesses as well as those who travel its highways.
“With this announcement and the funds that will be made available, we think the time is right to act quickly on our project to improve cellular networks particularly in the rural areas of Eastern Ontario,” Emon said.
“We need to build new towers, improve existing ones as well as add coverage and capacity, and we are confident given our experience on the first EORN project that we can create another success partnership with private sector companies in our region,” concluded Burton.