Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

Canada Calls Broadband a 'Basic' Service, Funds Rural Expansion

  • Telecoms had argued rural service wasn’t worth the investment
  • Regulator says broadband internet is a ‘basic’ telecom service

Canada’s communications regulator announced a C$750 million ($560 million) fund that companies like Rogers Communications Inc., BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. can tap to subsidize high-speed internet projects in rural parts of the country.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said broadband internet should be seen as a “basic” service across the country. The C$750 million will be distributed over five years and doled out based on applications from telecommunications carriers.

Most Canadians live in cities like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, and enjoy high-speed internet access and strong cellular networks. Still, many who live in rural parts of the country struggle to stay connected to the modern world with slow dial-up internet or spotty satellite services. Telecom providers have largely avoided those areas, arguing that the cost of building infrastructure to serve so few customers is uneconomical.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made expanding access to digital services a key part of his plan to shift Canada’s economic focus to value-added services.

A spokesman for BCE said the company was reviewing the plan. A spokesman for Telus didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

“While there are still many details to be worked out, we are encouraged by this reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard-to-reach areas of our country,” David Watt, Rogers’ head of government relations, said in an e-mail.

CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais has made several major pro-consumer rulings over the last few years, including banning three-year cell-phone contracts and forcing TV providers to sell channels individually rather than in bundles.

“Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” Blais said in a statement. “High-quality and reliable digital connectivity is essential for the quality of life of Canadians and Canada’s economic prosperity.”

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