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Canada declares internet access an “essential service” for all

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has declared broadband access to to be a “basic telecommunications service for all Canadians.”

Until now, only landline services were designated as essential, so this is big news for the internet in Canada.

The CRTC is also putting its money where its mouth is and investing up to $AUD1 billion to make it happen. The goal is to get everyone – from the barren Yukon to urban Toronto – a minimum download speed of 50 Mbps and an upload speed of 10 Mbps.

In addition, the CRTC wants unlimited data plans, and WiFi along the nation’s major roads.

If this all sounds pretty ambitious that’s because it is. At almost 10 million square kilometres, Canada is the second-largest country by land size, after Russia.

According to the CRTC, so far 82 per cent of Canadians have the desired internet speeds, a number which it hopes to get up to 90 by 2021.

At a news conference, Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC, said: “The future of our economy, our prosperity, our society – indeed the future of every citizen – requires us to set ambitious goals, and to get on with connecting all Canadians for the 21st century.”

A man in the Yukon

If all goes well, he’ll have high speed internet soon.

This is not the first time that the internet has been designated essential to life.

In 2013, a German federal court ruled that consumers have the right to monetary compensation whenever their internet service is interrupted.

And in 2009, French and Finnish officials took a similar position, stating that internet access is a basic human right, and should be enforceable by law.

A similar movement has also been happening on our shores.

Earlier this year, the not-for-profit organisation Internet Australia submitted a proposal to the government asking for broadband to be considered a basic right.

This sentiment seems to be echoed by the general public too, with a recent Essential Report poll finding that 88 percent of respondents see the internet as an essential service like water or electricity. Unfortunately, in that same poll only 22 percent of respondents felt that the current NBN model would meet our future needs.

As far as internet access goes, Australia is outperforming Canada. According to Internet World Stats, we currently have 93.1 per cent of the population connected, which is already higher than the Canadians’ 2021 goal.

But while access is healthy, speeds are a different story.

This year, the ABC reported that Australia’s global rank for internet speeds had fallen from 30th to 60th in the quarter ending December 2015.

I don’t want to harp on about the NBN, so I’ll let someone else do it.

Dr Mark Gregory, a senior lecturer in the School of Engineering at RMIT University, told the ABC that the drop in rankings is partially due to the delays in the NBN rollout, adding:

The Coalition’s decision to change the rollout to inferior technologies (FTTN), the associated 12-month delay whilst agreements were re-negotiated and a failure to address the underlying over-charging by the telecommunications industry has exacerbated the matter and in my view enhanced the rate of Australia’s fall down the ranking… everybody knows that copper technology has got certain limitations in spite of all the new improvements, which have happened in the last decade or so, but it cannot be compared to fibre optics.

It’s unclear at this point which method Canada will utilise in providing high-speed internet for all.

As a pro-tip for our Canuck friends, I have two suggestions: don’t rollout your internet plan among political squabbles, and use the latest technology available.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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