With the goal of extending broadband access to all Canadians within the next ten to fifteen years, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) adopted rules last week that place broadband Internet services on the same regulatory footing as voice telephony as a “basic telecommunications service.”

Nearly 82% of Canadian households and businesses subscribe to broadband services offering transmission speeds of 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload, which are ten times greater than the speed target currently mandated by the government.  In addition to boosting the government’s minimum broadband speed threshold to 50 Mbps/10 Mbps, the newly-adopted CTRC directive requires the extension of broadband services at that speed threshold to 90% of the Canadian population by 2021 and to 100% of the population between 2026 and 2031.  To achieve that goal, and acting on the heels of the government’s decision last week to allocate C$500 million in funding for the development of broadband network infrastructure in rural and remote areas, the CRTC will provide ISPs with access to C$750 million over the next five years that will help defray the cost of broadband deployment.  ISPs must guarantee customers a set price for broadband service to access the fund, although the CRTC will not impose a cap on broadband rates.  Within the next six months, ISPs must also provide subscribers with written contract terms that clearly specify (1) the scope of services provided, (2) usage limits, (3) minimum monthly charges, and (4) the full price of exceeding data limits. 

CRTC officials further noted that the directive includes provisions which call for the deployment of wireless broadband facilities “along major Canadian highways.”  As CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais described broadband Internet access as a “vital and a basic telecommunications service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” a spokesman for OpenMedia, a non-profit advocacy group, applauded the directive as “a game changer” in which “the CRTC has finally listened to Canadians and agreed that residential and mobile Internet is a basic service required for modern life.”