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WHEREAS the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) deems broadband a “basic” or “essential” service for Canadians; and
WHEREAS the current CRTC targets and federal funding programs do not specifically address the many rural, remote, and northern communities in Canada that continue to be unserved or underserved by internet service providers (ISP); and
WHEREAS broadband service in rural, remote and northern communities is slower, with less capacity (bandwidth) and significantly more cost than services in urban centres; and
WHEREAS connecting to the Government of Alberta’s fibre-optic infrastructure backbone (the SuperNet) is cost-prohibitive to ISPs and municipalities; and
WHEREAS access to high-speed/capacity broadband is vital to municipal sustainability, economic development and diversification, and overall community and social development; and
WHEREAS municipalities across Canada are initiating broadband projects to leverage network-based technologies in order to strategically improve services to rural, remote and northern communities and their residents and businesses, thereby enhancing social capacity, retaining knowledge workers and allowing businesses the opportunity to compete globally;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the governments of Alberta and Canada to provide direct funding to municipalities to support rural, remote and northern communities’ development of high speed (50 megabits per second and faster) community broadband, with federal government grants matching municipal and provincial investment in broadband network infrastructure.
Rural Canada requires accessible, affordable and reliable high-speed internet.
Over the past decade, municipalities from across Canada have initiated dialogue with federal and provincial governments, as well as incumbent telecom and internet service providers (ISP), to voice the need to enhance broadband and mobility services in rural, remote and northern communities.
Access to broadband allows Canadians to fully participate in the digital economy and take advantage of quality of life services, including telehealth, e-learning and access to government and social services.
Access to broadband enhances community viability, economic competitiveness and the ability to attract and retain business and industry. In order to survive in a global economy, rural communities need access to broadband services to be able to innovate, develop and retain a knowledge workforce, and to gain ‘digital equality’ with their urban municipal counterparts.
Currently, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) targets 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload for fixed broadband services (by 2021, 90% of homes/businesses); an unlimited data option for fixed services; and, the latest mobile wireless technology available to all homes and businesses, and along major Canadian roads. A funding regime is being developed by an ‘arm’s length’ third-party, with $750 million over the first five years for projects that complement existing and future private investment, in underserved areas.
Despite many federal and provincial programs aimed at supporting broadband development and access, rural communities remain unserved or underserved. High capital costs due to geography and population densities means low return on investment, limiting the ability for private sector investment in rural Canada even with federal and provincial grant programs and incentives. The business case for private sector investment simply does not exist in rural Canada, and this financial challenge has resulted in ‘final mile’ areas not being serviced or not serviced well, nor likely to ever be serviced by the private sector.
Broadband is now considered an essential service because it is a required social and community development tool. It is important for communities to plan wisely and be future ready, as with Canadian populations shifting toward urban centres, rural communities more than ever need to focus on community development and revenue diversification to remain viable. Broadband access remains the single largest barrier to digital advancement for rural communities.
Partnerships and government funding are critical to achieving broadband access for all Canadians. Federal and provincial governments’ principle focus must be on improving broadband standards in low-density rural, remote and First Nation communities, before any further funding is dedicated to upgrading already-served urban centres.
3-17S: National Broadband Strategy
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) request that the governments of Alberta and Canada declare broadband an essential service; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC request that the governments of Alberta and Canada provide direct funding and support to rural, remote and northern communities to ensure affordable access to, or the development of, high speed (100 Mbps and faster) community network infrastructure; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC urge the Government of Canada to develop a national broadband strategy; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that rural municipalities, internet service providers, education and health professionals, public safety organizations, and research and economic development authorities be actively involved in preparing the National Broadband Strategy.
DEVELOPMENT: The Government of Alberta response indicates broad support of the resolution’s call for increased action on the part of government and industry in enhancing rural broadband availability and quality. RMA is pleased with the direction that the Government of Alberta has taken to this point in prioritizing rural final mile connectivity in their development of a new operating agreement. The Government of Alberta is currently in the process of developing a rural broadband strategy, and has convened an inter-ministerial working group to do so. In early 2018, RMA assisted Service Alberta in promoting a survey to members to gather baseline information on rural broadband service delivery. Unfortunately, RMA has received no indication that it, or any member municipalities, will be invited to participate in the working group.
At the federal level, RMA is pleased with the 2016 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that declared broadband as a basic telecommunications service, which is the telecommunications equivalent of an essential service, and empowers the CRTC to implement programs, policies, regulations and initiatives to improve broadband in underserved areas. One such initiative being undertaken in relation to the basic service declaration is a $750 million fund to enhance broadband in rural areas, to be funded by industry. RMA has submitted input to the CRTC on how the fund should be structured, and the CRTC is expected to release these details by mid-2018. A second aspect of the CRTC’s declaration of broadband as a basic service was to increase the threshold for underserved areas from those with service below 5mbps download / 1mbps upload to 50mbps download / 10mbps upload. In their 2018 budget, the Government of Canada also announced that $100 million over five years has been dedicated to the Strategic Innovation Fund, will mainly be used to advanced low earth orbit satellite technology to improve broadband service in rural and remote communities.
Despite the positive progress made recently by the provincial and federal governments related to enhancing rural broadband, RMA is unaware of any federal initiative to develop a national broadband strategy. Therefore, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Part due to the federal declaration of broadband as a basic telecommunications service, which meets the intent of part of the resolution.
In December 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared broadband an essential telecommunications service and set targets for minimum download and upload speeds for 90 per cent of Canadian residents and businesses by 2021. In response to the CRTC decision, Service Alberta began work in 2017 to develop recommendations for a long-term strategy to ensure Albertans have access to high-quality, affordable access to broadband services.
Increases to funding for broadband network support would need to be considered through the government’s budget development process.
Alberta Treasury Board and Finance
Alberta Treasury Board and Finance has no input as the resolution is not within the ministry’s mandate.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commision
In March 2019, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission provided a letter in response to this resolution. The relevant sections of the letter are as follows:
There are several different ways that municipalities can participate in the Broadband Fund and assist the Commission to distribute funding to underserved areas. First of all, pursuant to point b. of paragraph 119 of Telecom Regulatory Policy 2018-377, municipalities are eligible to apply for funding, so long as they, or any entities that they partner with, fulfill all of the applicant eligibility requirements.
Further, even if a municipality is not a Broadband Fund applicant, it can consult with an applicant regarding a proposed project in their area or can contribute funding toward a proposed project. Both actions would be looked upon favourably by the Commission when assessing a project for potential funding. There could also be other ways for a municipality to support proposed projects in their area without being an applicant for funding.
The Government of Alberta has announced $150 million in funding for rural and Indigenous communities to develop broadband infrastructure. This is a welcome investment in rural Alberta to support quality of life and attract economic development. RMA will monitor how this fund is administered, identifying opportunities for municipalities to become involved.
The response from the CRTC indicates that municipalities are eligible to receive funding from the Broadband Fund if they, or a partner, meet the applicant eligibility requirements. RMA understands that municipalities that can meet the eligibility requirements on their own will not need to partner with an ISP, in addition to all municipalities having the option to apply for funding if they partner with an experienced ISP.
The Government of Canada has stated their goal to provide high speed internet to all Canadians by 2030. This plan is supported by $2.75 billion in funding through the Universal Broadband Fund. RMA is pleased to see a funding commitment made to provide broadband internet access in rural and remote areas, and is advocating for a prompt rollout out of funding for projects in rural Alberta.
This resolution is assigned a status of Accepted and will be monitored for additional funding announcements, including details for the provincial funding pool.