More than 40 years after the Anik A satellites established Canada as a leader in distance communications, many northern Canadians do not have high-speed Internet access.
The lack of adequate communications infrastructure in the North threatens the delivery of essential government services like emergency services, health and education, and is a significant barrier to improved productivity, innovation, and access to markets.
Broadband Internet access has become fundamental to modern life, and has the power to transform rural and northern Canada. Networks contribute to economic growth by improving productivity, providing new services, supporting innovation, and improving market access. Unfortunately, the "broadband gap" remains a reality in northern and remote communities, as some are without broadband coverage while others remain underserved by insufficient bandwidth and network capacity to meet rapidly evolving user demands.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has long advocated for increased federal involvement in developing the telecommunications infrastructure that is so important to the social, cultural and economic life of Canada's northern and remote communities. Specific barriers faced by Canada's northern and remote communities that inhibit their meaningful participation in today's digital economy are a lack of service parity across these communities and with southern Canada, along with a lack of redundancy, lack of capacity and high system vulnerability, highlighted by service outages and technical failures.
CRTC Review of Basic Telecommunications Services
In July 2015, FCM submitted its intervention in the CRTC's Review of Basic Telecommunications Services. The submission called for universal access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet and ongoing consultation with municipalities on federal investments in broadband infrastructure. FCM's submission also highlighted the specific barriers faced by communities in both rural and northern Canada that inhibit their meaningful participation in today's digital economy.
Northern Component of Connecting Canadians Program
In the 2014 federal budget, the Government of Canada announced a new dedicated program to support broadband access in rural and remote communities. The northern component of the Connecting Canadians program will invest $50 million in bringing 3 Mbps service to households in Nunavut and Nunavik that are entirely dependent on satellite communications for broadband service.
A long-term government strategy will be needed to maintain and improve high-speed broadband services in Canada's northern and remote regions. FCM's Northern and Remote Forum recommends that the Government of Canada should:
- Expand the CRTC basic service objective to include universal access to affordable high-speed broadband Internet at speeds that reflect present realities and guarantee long-term, reliable connectivity;
- Implement the recommendations of the 2011 Arctic Communications Infrastructure Assessment (ACIA) report;
- Develop a North-specific strategy that sets out a sustained, multi-year funding commitment for developing communications networks;
- Commit to service parity among northern communities and with southern urban centres;
- Ensure every Arctic community has a redundant connection to avoid gaps in essential communication services;
- Ensure that investment strategies for Arctic communication networks include provision for rapid technological change and the continuous introduction of new consumer services and devices;
- Foster competition in ICT services in the North, including a restructuring of the National Contribution Fund and
- Engage northern municipalities in developing a strategy for northern ICT investment and the development of ICT-delivered services.
- FCM testimony at Industry Committee study on broadband access (March 2013)
- Announcement of new $305 million, five-year broadband program in the 2014 federal budget (February 2014)
- Conference Board report Mapping the Long-Term Options for Canada's North: Telecommunications and Broadband Connectivity (August 2013)
- Submissions from FCM and the NWT Association of Communities to the CRTC consultation on Northwestel's Modernization Plan (December 2013)
- CanNor Northern Communications Information Systems-Working Group report Northern Connectivity: Ensuring Quality Communications (January 2014)