WHEREAS the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulates all Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications activities and enforces rules it creates to carry out the policies assigned to it; and
WHEREAS as per Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496, the CRTC recognizes that a well-developed broadband infrastructure is essential for Canadians to participate in the digital economy and has mandated that Canadians have access to broadband Internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, with an unlimited data allowance by 2021; and
WHEREAS the CRTC recognizes that, while most Canadians today have access to CRTC mandated service levels, many rural and remote regions in Canada do not share this access due to a lack of suitable infrastructure; and
WHEREAS the CRTC maintains that a combination of a CRTC funding mechanism, private investments, other government funding, and public-private partnerships will be sufficient to meet its mandated service offerings by the end of 2021; and
WHEREAS Service Alberta plans to deliver a rural broadband strategy that realizes the path forward for all residents of rural Alberta to achieve the CRTC mandated service levels; and
WHEREAS for many rural Albertans, accessing high-speed Internet remains either exceptionally costly, impractical or outright unattainable; and
WHEREAS given the CRTC’s and Service Alberta’s acknowledgment that access to high-speed Internet access is a crucial factor in economic prosperity, as well as the persistent issues with accessing high-speed broadband service offerings from local internet service providers (ISPs) in rural areas, rural Albertans are justifiably concerned that their welfare and the future economic well-being of their communities is at risk; and
WHEREAS Canada has a competitive disadvantage in deploying infrastructure in comparison to international competitors because of geographical and demographic realities, but still must find efficient means of remaining at the leading edge of infrastructure advances;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) urge the Government of Alberta to deliver a comprehensive rural broadband strategy that realizes the path forward for all residents of rural Alberta to achieve the CRTC’s universal service objective targets of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for fixed broadband services; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that RMA emphasize to the Government of Alberta that, for economic, political, and social concerns, the completed strategy should be made available to the public in the shortest possible time; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that such a strategy should include the following components to best serve the interests of rural Albertans and to facilitate the effective implementation of the strategy in pursuit of its goals.
Access to high-speed broadband Internet access has become a necessity for Canadians. Communities with broadband access experience a wide array of economic, educational, and social advantages. However, while most Canadians today have access to high-speed Internet, many rural and remote regions in Canada do not share this access due to a lack of suitable broadband infrastructure. This growing gap in access to high-speed broadband Internet is often referred to as the ‘Digital Divide’.
At the federal level, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has officially recognized that a well-developed broadband infrastructure is essential for Canadians to participate in the digital economy. It has mandated that Canadian homes and businesses have access to broadband Internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, as well as the option to subscribe to a service offering with an unlimited data allowance.
To facilitate the creation of suitable infrastructure for Canadians not meeting its mandated service levels, the CRTC maintains that a combination of a CRTC funding mechanism, private investments, other government funding, and public-private partnerships will be sufficient to meet its mandated service offerings by the end of 2021.
However, for many rural Albertans who continue to lack high-speed broadband Internet access, the prospect of receiving the CRTC mandated service levels by 2021 seems unlikely. Several factors contribute to this view. Almost all wireless Internet service offerings do not meet CRTC mandated service levels. Furthermore, local ISPs in Alberta have proven to be unwilling or unable to invest in the broadband infrastructure required for many rural Albertans to access the CRTC mandated Internet service offerings. Lastly, there is the perception among Albertans of anti-competitive behaviour among local ISPs regarding ownership of broadband infrastructure.
As a result, for many rural Albertans, accessing high-speed Internet service offerings has become either exceptionally costly, impractical or outright unattainable.
Ensuring high-speed broadband Internet access for rural Albertans will be a challenge. Canada’s low population density, diverse geographic terrain, and its regulatory framework have made it difficult for the private sector to offer mandated service levels at an affordable price.
Investing in rural broadband infrastructure also has numerous economic payoffs. The advent of the connected farm is upon us, with boundless possibilities for productivity and efficiency growth as new technology spurs agricultural innovations. With the global demand for food set to nearly double by 2050, prioritizing rural broadband deployments to enable productivity growth in the coming years would be a wise decision.
Additionally, the monopolistic-style control of broadband infrastructure that currently exists in Canada has a stifling effect on expansion and innovation within the industry. The barriers to access for small companies is very high, and when or if they enter into competition with the incumbents, they operate at a significant disadvantage that stifles industry growth and innovation. Policy decisions that facilitate shared access to existing infrastructure in order to move the industry away from facilities-based competition and towards service-based competition would help provide a more competitive environment in which businesses can thrive.
In the early 1900’s, the provincial government partnered with local municipalities and industry in Southern Alberta to embark on an ambitious project of canal and irrigation building. The foresight of government and industry leaders in building this network enabled a century of economic prosperity, innovation, and created an economic environment that continues to provide a high quality of life for the people of southern Alberta. Today, the Province has a chance to embrace an even grander project. Bold policy decisions today that enable the rapid expansion of broadband infrastructure throughout rural Alberta will yield immeasurable dividends in the decades to come. Alberta’s rural municipalities stand ready to partner on this project.
Broadcasting Act (S.C. 1991, c. 11)
Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496,
Haight, Michael; Quan-Haase, Anabel; Corbett, Bradley A (2014). Revisiting the digital divide in Canada: the impact of demographic factors on access to the Internet, level of online activity, and social networking site usage (Report). Information, Communication & Society.
Sciadas, George (2001). “The Digital Divide in Canada” Statistics Canada.
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.