Looking at who, not where

In the upcoming CRTC “Review of basic telecommunications services” hearing, most of the attention will be focused on the question of adding broadband to definition of “basic service”.

As I have written before, from the outset, the CRTC has framed its review from the perspective of geography, seeking to “gather information from the industry to better understand which telecommunications services are being offered across Canada and whether any areas in Canada are underserved or unserved.”

In seeking public comments on solutions, we continue to see the terminology of a geographic bias. “What action, if any, should the Commission take where Canadians do not have access…” and “What action, if any, should the Commission take in cases where its target speeds will not be achieved…”

Such approaches, a bizarre artifact of the earliest monopoly telephone era, have created a bias in government spending programs and regulatory cross-subsidies that see urban consumers, regardless of financial means, pay more for telecom services in order to subsidize rural users, regardless of financial need.

The Toronto Star writes “Anti-poverty advocates call for affordable Internet“. The article describes how ACORN, will be putting a human dimension before the Commission. [ACORN will be represented as part of a group called the Affordable Access Coalition, represented by PIAC.]

ACORN has released a study, “Internet for All: Internet Use and Accessibility for Low-Income Canadians” that calls for:

  • $10/month product for high speed (15 megabits/second or equivalent to high speed in area);
  • Families and individuals below the Low Income Measure as eligible to qualify;
  • Subsidized computers for qualifying families and individuals.

As the Toronto Star article indicates, Rogers has a $10 high speed internet product available to the 58,000 households in Toronto Community Housing, and in cooperation with Compugen and Microsoft, the group offers a $150 computer.

I have been writing for too long that broadband affordability is not a geographic issue. Five years ago, I estimated that as many as 2 million households in Canada lacked a computer. Canada’s 3 biggest cities had more than 600,000 households with no computer.

When the CRTC examines the question of broadband as a basic service, it needs to ensure that any measures it takes recognize the question of urban affordability for low income households. It would be a mistake, and counterproductive, to increase the cost of service in urban centres to subsidize rural and remote regions without first considering affordability and means.

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