The CRTC will not regulate broadband internet anytime soon.
In a decision last week, the commission ruled out the possibility it would regulate the high-speed internet in the same way it does telephone service.
Instead, it will leave it up to market forces and targeted government funding to determine the price and availability of broadband internet.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” said Terry Hayden, the assistant deputy minister for economic development.
The Yukon government made a submission to the CRTC asking for high-speed internet to be included in the Basic Service Obligation.
That regulation sets out the basic level of service a telecommunications company must provide, and the price.
Both long-distance services and dialup internet are part of the Basic Service Obligation, but not high-speed internet.
Northwestel and other telcoms opposed the change.
Ultimately the CRTC decided in their favor.
However the regulator did put forward a nonbinding target for internet speeds nationwide, a move Hayden said, “is a step in the right direction.”
The target is five megabits per second for downloads and one megabit per second for uploads for every Canadian by 2015.
“The industry is actively responding to market demands and we have every confidence in its ability to meet the target,” said the CRTC in its decision.
For the Yukon, relying on market forces alone wont be enough, said Hayden.
“The North is different,” he said. “We’re unique in that the level of market forces that you would commonly find in the South don’t exist here.”
In most parts the country, where there is competition for broadband services, meeting those targets isn’t an issue, said Andrew Robulack, a Whitehorse-based writer and IT consultant.
“If you look across Canada it has almost zero impact,” he said. “Most of the larger providers are already well beyond these limits.”
Even in the Yukon, it’s really only the outlying communities where meeting the targets would be an issue.
“We do meet the speeds in some of our more urban areas where we are able to offer cable internet,” said Sunny Patch, communications manager for Northwestel. “We’ll have to do some more research into what would be involved in bringing those internet speeds to all of our customers across our region because in certain areas it will be challenging.
“In particular, our satellite-serviced communities.”
While Northwestel really doesn’t have to meet those targets – it is not in any way a regulation or requirement – Robulack thinks it could lead to price increases.
“They will have to add new equipment and upgrade aspects of the network for very small portions of the population,” said Robulack. “It gives Northwestel a really good excuse to raise prices.”
Currently, the CRTC is in the process of reviewing Northwestel’s price cap.
The regulator is accepting public submissions for the next couple of months.
“We’re going to participate in that hearing,” said Hayden. “One of the questions that we’re going to ask is if the intent is to rely on market forces to reach those target amounts, and those market forces don’t exist in the North, what other unique approach can we look at, or that might be required?”
For telephone and dial-up internet services, the solution has been to subsidize the development and maintenance of that infrastructure through a fund administered by the CRTC.
Northwestel receives tens of millions of dollars every year from this pot of cash.
Without some sort of similar intervention it will be difficult for remote regions to catch up with the rest of the country, said Robulack.
“The North is going to be hard-pressed for quality broadband service without competition or regulation,” he said. “That’s exactly why phone service was so heavily regulated and that makes me wonder why they’re not stepping up in the same way for internet.”
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