Mark Goldberg


Do we offer a sip of water to the thirsty?

Ever since the CRTC released Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2018-377, Development of the Commission’s Broadband Fund, certain critics have campaigned against it, charging (incorrectly) that the Commission has cut its own internet speed targets in half.

It didn’t.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago,

In December 2016, the CRTC set out objectives. As related to broadband service, those objectives were:

  • Canadian residential and business fixed broadband Internet access service subscribers should be able to access speeds of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, and to be able to choose to subscribe to a service offering with an unlimited data allowance; and
  • the latest generally deployed mobile wireless technology should be available not only in Canadian homes and businesses, but on as many major transportation roads as possible in Canada.

… The 2016 policy set targets for the objective to be met in 90% of Canadian households by the end of 2021, and for 100% of Canadian households, 10 to 15 years following the December 21, 2016 issuance of Telecom Regulatory Policy 2016-496.

A subsequent CRTC decision added additional metrics: “In Telecom Decision 2018-241, the Commission determined that fixed broadband Internet access service is of high quality if it meets a round-trip latency threshold of 50 milliseconds and a packet loss threshold of 0.25%, both measured during peak times.”

The CRTC sought comments on how to distribute its $750M Broadband Fund. Other branches of government, at all levels, have been funding broadband development projects for decades now and still, 1 in 6 Canadian homes lacks access to a service that meets the CRTC’s targets. Some households lack affordable access to any form of broadband internet service.

In its September 2018 funding Policy, the CRTC observed that “A speed eligibility criterion of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload would likely result in projects covering underserved areas that would deliver a broadband Internet access service that the majority of Canadians use today. Accordingly, the Commission considers that a minimum speed eligibility criterion of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload would be meaningful and a significant first step towards meeting the universal service objective.”

As a result, it said “that to be eligible for funding, proposed projects that would build or upgrade access infrastructure must be capable of providing a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 5 Mbps” but it also added an important condition: “the Commission expects that proposed projects that do not meet the universal service objective-level speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload will be scalable, meaning that speeds of 50/10 Mbps will be provided to the target community at a future date through capacity upgrades in the access or transport infrastructure.”

The 2016 policy acknowledged that “In some underserved areas, achieving the objective will likely need to be accomplished in incremental steps due to many factors, such as geography, the cost of transport capacity, the distance to points of presence, and the technology used.” [Paragraph 140]

Critics who say the CRTC has lowered the standard set in 2016 are just plain wrong. There has been no change in CRTC policy. The 2016 policy from the CRTC quite clearly did not call for all subsidized internet projects to meet the target speeds overnight, which is why it spoke of “incremental steps” and set a 10-15 year window for the target objective to be met.

Today, some Canadians lack access to affordable broadband at any speed.

They are thirsty for access to the same kinds of services that most Canadians use every day. Some so-called “consumer advocates” believe Canadians should reject anything less than the speeds equivalent to those available in urban centres. That isn’t realistic.

Should we offer a drink of water to those who are thirsty or make them wait until a full bar service is available?

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