CRTC ruling could bring faster internet to the North

The CRTC has declared that broadband internet access is a basic telecommunications service across Canada, which could bring higher internet speeds to many northern communities.

The CRTC has declared that broadband internet access is a basic telecommunications service across Canada, which could bring higher internet speeds to many northern communities.

Last week, Canada’s national telecommunications regulator set new internet targets of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, 10 times faster than previous targets. The CRTC also ruled that internet providers must include an unlimited data option.

The regulator also created a $750-million fund to help build and upgrade broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

“Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” said CRTC chairman and CEO Jean-Pierre Blais in a statement.

In 2015, 82 per cent of Canadians already had access to the new target speeds set out by the CRTC. The regulator wants that figure to increase to 90 per cent by the end of 2021, and to 100 per cent within 10 to 15 years.

In the Yukon, Northwestel estimates that more than 60 per cent of the territory’s population has access to internet speeds of 50 Mbps or higher.

But those speeds are only available in Whitehorse and Carcross. In several communities, including Dawson City, Faro, Haines Junction, Teslin and Watson Lake, residential speeds top out at 15 Mbps. In Beaver Creek, Keno, Marsh Lake, Mayo and Old Crow, the maximum speed is five megabits per second.

Unlimited data is not available in the territory.

And in Whitehorse, download speeds of 50 Mbps cost a minimum of $110 per month.

The CRTC ruling did not include any requirement to keep faster internet or unlimited data affordable.

Northwestel declined to comment on the ruling, saying it is “still reviewing the decision.”

Cameron Zubko, chief operating officer for Ice Wireless, a competing Internet service provider in northern Canada, said the ruling will “definitely help improve broadband speeds for the Yukon.”

But he said it’s still unclear how money from the new $750 million fund will be allocated, and whether his company will benefit directly. In the past, he said, similar funding has only gone to the major providers, like Northwestel.

“Other companies such as Ice Wireless were not able to tap into the funding to provide service to Yukoners.”

He’s urging the CRTC to direct some of this new funding to smaller competitors, “rather than simply dole it out to the same old players.”

He said “the sky’s the limit” to what smaller players like Ice Wireless could do to improve internet service if they were given a chance.

Failing that, he said, Ice Wireless could still benefit indirectly from improvements to Northwestel’s network. Currently, the company purchases access to Northwestel’s long-haul transportation services — essentially, the network that connects the Yukon to Outside.

“Presumably the incumbent, Northwestel, will be tapping into this new fund to improve the robustness of their network,” he said. “We will have access to presumably more capacity from those links.”

The CRTC ruling will also require providers to give customers who incur overages information about data use and alternative plans to help them manage their usage.

Last week’s ruling comes on the heels of an announcement that the federal government will invest up to $500 million to bring broadband internet to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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