Internet an essential service, Yukon government tells CRTC

The Yukon government is pushing for broadband Internet to be classified as an essential service, which could end up making it more affordable for northern residents.

The Yukon government is pushing for broadband Internet to be classified as an essential service, which could end up making it more affordable for northern residents.

“Access to fast, affordable, and reliable telecommunications and information services is essential for Yukon homes and businesses, and the evolution of technological capabilities and customer expectations will require continuing upgrades to the standards and levels of service available,” the government states in a recent filing to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The commission is holding consultations about what telecom services should be deemed mandatory under the “basic services objective,” or BSO.

Last updated in 1999, these requirements currently only apply to landline telephone services.

“The idea back then and today is that the BSO ensures all Canadians, no matter where they live, have access to telecom services of a high quality that run across a world-class telecom system,” explained Dean Proctor, Chief Development Officer at SSi Micro, which provides Internet services in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“The problem with BSO having been set 20 years ago is that broadband Internet does not make up part of what is considered ‘basic service,’” he said.

The Yellowknife-based company also filed an intervention to the CRTC, asking that broadband Internet be deemed a mandatory service, and that the commission subsidise the cost of providing Internet services to remote areas.

Currently, Canada’s telephone companies pay into a national fund that is used to offset the high cost of providing landline telephone services to unprofitable northern communities. SSi would like to see the same system be put in place for broadband.

“(Internet) it’s really the digital democracy: people need access to broadband connection to have access to government programs, health records, tax returns, getting refunds,” said Proctor.

He points to how he says SSi is delivering education through Arctic College to some of Nunavut’s remote communities.

“Broadband replaces the bricks and mortars of schools, banks, stores. We believe it’s an essential service,” he said.

The Yukon government is also pushing for a similar subsidy system, recommending a system that would allow “high-speed access to communities in all regions of Canada at comparable prices,” read the filing.

The government noted Yukoners have to pay high usage charges and that there is a lack of investment in the infrastructure.

Ultimately it all ties back to the lack of competition that Northwestel faces, the territory’s filing states.

“The concentration of facilities ownership (telecom, cable and wireless) with Northwestel and its affiliates represents a significant structural barrier to choice and innovation.”

The CRTC is set to open the review for public consultation this fall, with a public hearing in April 2016.

Northwestel said it was an “active participant” in the CRTC review, and that Bell Canada had filed an intervention on its behalf. The company wouldn’t say whether it supports setting mandatory broadband service requirements.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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