CRTC Urged to Address Rural Broadband Challenges

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) and the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) are pressing Canada’s telecom regulator to better recognize the critical need for high-speed internet access in rural communities.

Representatives from the organizations spoke at recent hearings held by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on basic telecommunications services, including whether high-speed internet should be a basic telecom service for all Canadians.

Currently, the CRTC only deems touch-tone phone service, a printed phone book and a low-speed internet connection as basic services. The basic telecommunications services policy was established in 1999 and last reviewed in 2011.

The EOWC, which represents 13 Counties and single-tier municipalities in rural Eastern Ontario, created EORN in 2010 to address the digital divide in the region. Through some $260 million in public funding and private investment, EORN helped to create a 5,500-km regional fibre optic backbone and nearly two dozen local access networks, improving broadband access across much of Eastern Ontario. EORN continues to work to expand and leverage broadband access across the region.

“The CRTC has to reflect the reality of modern life – both urban and rural. In our communities, as in most Canadian communities, high-speed internet must be considered a basic service,” said EOWC Chair Peter Emon, Warden for Renfrew County. “It must also include mobile broadband access, given how smartphones and tablets are commonplace in every home or business.”

The Eastern Ontario delegation urged the CRTC to guarantee minimum internet service levels, so that ISPs were required to provide reliable speeds and service standards to meet what internet users actually need today, as well as goals for the future.

Map of Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucaus
Map of Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucaus

“We know first-hand the challenges that rural customers face in getting affordable, reliable broadband speeds,” said EORN Chair David Burton, Reeve of Highlands East. “Frankly, recent CRTC reports suggesting that Canadian ISPs are meeting or exceeding their marketing promises fall flat in rural areas. That is simply not the experience for all rural subscribers.”

The delegation also urged the CRTC to develop a way to fund improved rural connectivity. They asked that ISPs be required to invest some profits into rural internet connections in order to guarantee basic communication services across all communities.