CRTC’s promise of high speed, unlimited internet for rural Canadians falls short

(Last Updated On: January 23, 2019)

Since December 2016, the CRTC has been sitting on a $750 million commitment to invest in actual physical infrastructure which is suppose to provide more “rural” Canadians (meaning small communities, sorry farmers) with super high speed internet, speeds up to 50 mbps upload and 10 mbps download (compare to most of us who are lucky to get 5-10 mbps upload)?

Now, over two years later, the CRTC has finally announced they are launching the physical infrastructure program in 2019.

This is a hard wired solution, broadband. Not like the previous ones where
telecom companies simply threw money at satellite companies, such as SaskTel did in 2008*, and made co-branding deals so they could brag about their “efforts”. This plan includes upgrading existing landline networks or installation of new ones, to carry higher internet speeds. It also focused on unlimited bandwidth for those communities.

This money is straight from CRTC, not the government, and is in addition to the $500 million of taxpayer dollars already invested by our government for rural and remote broadband access. Dubbed the “Connect to Innovate fund”, which has already been spent, Canada’s auditor general and various independent industry players have stated great concerns over how the money was spent and that the goal of connectivity was missed.

“Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada launched the Connect to Innovate fund in 2016, aiming to award money for projects in hard to reach places where there’s no business case for larger players to build networks. “

“But the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, found ISED “did not implement the program in a way that ensured the maximum expansion for the public money spent.” “Financial Post, November 23rd, 2018

Promises of cellular dead zones on all Canadian roads also to be addressed

In addition to the broadband plan, there is an aspect going to the telecom industry to ensure cellular service along every Canadian road. (No more dead zones.)

On July 4, 2018 SaskTel announced plans to improve 4G LTE cellular services in rural communities throughout rural Saskatchewan by deploying a small cell site solution, when they published the list of the first 47 communities to receive the new service. On November, 26th, 2018, they announced phase two, with an additional 41 communities to be added to that list.

Several communities in North East Saskatchewan made the list, however some, such as Codette, SK, have been left out in the cold. SaskTel did not release any information about they criteria surrounding how they chose the communities. It is unknown why a community such as Codette, in it’s vital location, not only as a community, but as one in close proximity to towers and on a main highway route serving the bulk of the region’s traffic continues to be a “one bar” to dead zone. Population does not seem to be a factor, as Codette’s population of 189 residents far exceeds that of the Village of Love, SK, with 50 people, who made it to the second list of communities to receive the small cell site solution.

Since the CRTC’s $750 million fund is just now being launched and the application process will happen through 2019, one can optimistically hope that SaskTel has plans to apply for more funding under the pretense that we have too many dead zones on our Saskatchewan Highways, and that Codette will get another chance for improved cell phone service.

Eligibility criteria may mean partly served communities ineligible

As if the delay was not bad enough, there is the twist. The original promise of 50 mbps may be cut in half to 25 mbps. What that means, is all the small communities who’s Internet Service Providers claim their service is 25 mbps, (even though the carriers rarely live up to those speeds), are now eliminated from receiving those physical broadband upgrades.

Under the original announcement, communities in which SaskTel offers speeds of up to 25 Mbps, would have been eligible to use the program to boost those speeds to 50 Mbps. Should the recent news of that 50Mbps target being reduced to 25 Mbps become a reality. Organizations, such as Swift in Ontario, are already pointing out major flaws in the eligibility criteria, as they state in a recent press release, “..the eligibility and assessment criteria used to evaluate applicants excludes “partially served” areas, a hexagon with at least one household that has access to 50/10 target speeds. “Partially served” areas are not eligible for funding.”

The CRTC is shifting its regulatory focus from wireline voice to broadband services. Currently there is a subsidy for residential local voice services in rural and remote areas that amounted to approximately $100 million in 2016. The current local voice subsidy will now be transitioned to the new funding mechanism announced today (for projects that meet the new targets).

And just to add a few more Saskatchewan communities to the ineligible list, Sasktel’s recent announcement of expansion of their interNET Extended 25 service to 75 communities in rural Saskatchewan is already bringing speeds of 25 Mbps, which could either make those communities low priority or ineligible altogether. Again, if the target is reduced from 50 to 25, communities such as Arborfield and Naicam won’t be eligible for improved broadband and unlimited data. Even if the goal stays at 50 Mbps, those communities will find themselves much lower on the priority list.

“The current local voice subsidy will now be transitioned to the new funding mechanism” means your landline bills are likely to increase.

Currently, landline services are old and cost a lot to provide and maintain. The CRTC actually subsidizes the cost of land lines, particularly in rural areas. While the number of people who still maintain a landline is decreasing, poor cellular services in rural areas mean some Canadians don’t have the choice to abandon those hard wired home phones and rely only on cell phones. It is yet to be seen how this transition away from local voice subsidies will impact the monthly bills for those who are not in a position to cut their home phone off yet, but any loss of the current subsidy for landlines will, no doubt, be passed on to the customers.

*Why SaskTel claimed 100% of Saskatchewan residents had high speed internet 10 years ago

In 2008, SaskTel had announced a plan to bring high speed internet to 100% of the province and implement upgrades through the rest of it’s existing network. The budget announced was over $100 million.

2009, SaskTel and Xplornet announced a co-branding deal, worth $6 million, that followed through on their promise to provide internet to many of their customers in rural Saskatchewan. Despite the fact that Xplornet already offered the satellite internet service to those exact same customers, the partnership was touted as if it were a new service, not readily available, SaskTel was free to cross that goal off their list and spend the remainder of the $100 million+ on tower and service upgrades in cities and other densely populated areas.

According to an Xplornet press release on June 9th, 2009, “SaskTel Satellite Internet powered by Xplornet provides affordable, fast and easy Internet access packages with speeds of up to 1.0 Mbps or up to 1.5 Mbps starting from $56.95 per month.
Sasktel is pleased to offer high speed internet service to all it’s customers in Saskatchewan,” SaskTel president and CEO Robert Watson said,”This is a great accomplishment as Saskatchewan will be one of only two provinces in Canada that provides the service to 100% of the province.


Post Author: Joanne Francis

Joanne Francis is the Editor and Journalist for Nipawin News