Mark Goldberg


www.mhgoldberg.com





Fox Group Dispatch

Toward a national broadband strategy

On Friday, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced agreement had been reached with his provincial and territorial counterparts on the principles for a national broadband strategy.

The strategy is based on 3 key principles: Access, Collaboration and Effective Investment. These form what could be a “table of contents” of a more complete strategy document.

As we move forward and engage in this work, we will be guided by the following connectivity principles:

Access

  • Access to reliable, high quality and affordable services are necessary for Canada’s success in a digital world, to allow all Canadian businesses, households, and public institutions to realize the economic and social benefits of connectivity through the use of advanced technologies and applications
  • Work towards establishing universal access of at least 50 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload taking into context scalability and longer-term growth.
  • Businesses should have access to networks that support their ability to utilize technology, compete, and contribute to the economy.
  • Mobile connectivity on major highways and roads is an important need, including for safety.

Collaboration

  • Collaboration is essential to address the scope of the challenge and maximize the effect of our actions.
  • Shared objectives and priorities will lead to better outcomes.
  • Gathering, having access to, and sharing reliable data can significantly improve analysis and deployment strategies, as well as enable public reporting on progress.
  • Recognize the unique circumstances of Indigenous communities, especially in remote and isolated locations.

Effective Investments

  • Targeting market failures allows governments to direct support to where it is needed most.
  • Coordination of regulatory and spending levers helps ensure effective implementation.
  • Open access requirements can promote competition, affordability, and greater choice and should therefore be considered.
  • Addressing deployment barriers can significantly reduce constructions costs of digital infrastructure.

Improving broadband adoption is predicated on two key elements: an effective strategy needs to be concerned with increasing the availability of high speed services (supply), as well as ensuring that all Canadian households are able to get on-line (demand).

The elements in Friday’s announcement set out a framework that needs to reach beyond the various levels of government and encourage increased private sector investment, potentially unlocking billions of dollars per year in capital spending.

There are many ways that government can help, especially in improving access to rights of way and access to existing government infrastructure, as well as providing faster processes for investment approvals. The recent court decision striking down a bylaw from the City of Calgary shines a light on how some policies have restricted telecommunications industry access to rights of way and municipal infrastructure, creating disincentives for investment. I have written before “How smarter policy can create smarter cities.” And more than 11 years ago, I wrote that a “city would be better off with a declaration that it will no longer fight carriers looking to invest and it will get out of the way of service providers that want to improve fibre access to their customers. The best way to support industry may be for the city to just get out of the way.”

Canada should examine the rules recently put in place by the FCC that require accelerated timelines for municipalities to approve or reject construction projects and the federal regulator also imposed limits on the fees that municipalities could extract for communications infrastructure projects.

The strategy appears to endorse the CRTC’s pragmatic approach for implementing its new Broadband fund. “Work towards establishing universal access of at least 50 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload taking into context scalability and longer-term growth.” As I have written recently, the Commission recognized the challenges of extending broadband to some remote area, even when it set its ambitious national broadband target. “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.”

How do we increase demand?

This past June, Minister Bains announced the coming launch of “Connecting Families“, a project in collaboration with most of Canada’s major telephone and cable companies, that is designed to help hundreds of thousands of low income Canadian households get affordable internet services. It is a major step in the right direction. While Rogers and TELUS have been offering similar services for a number of years, the national program is supposed to be launched very soon.

As the Federal and Provincial ministers agreed, “Gathering, having access to, and sharing reliable data can significantly improve analysis” to improve our understanding of other factors that are inhibiting increased adoption, as I wrote in “Building a broadband research agenda.”

The new national broadband strategy, based on the principles of Access, Collaboration and Effective Investments, will help drive supply of advanced broadband infrastructure. The launch of Connecting Families will be an important step in helping to increase subscriber adoption.

With far less fanfare than the previous government’s widely ridiculed national digital strategy – perhaps better characterized as a national digital pamphlet – Minister Bains has put forward a more actionable broadband strategy. Digital issues have moved higher on the national agenda evidenced by the multi-stakeholder broadband strategy, the Broadcast and Telecom Legislative Review and the CRTC’s Broadband Fund.

These are encouraging signals. We will continue to watch the file as greater detail is released.

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