Letter to Industry Minister Tony Clement

Gareth Shearman, President, Telecommunities Canada
December 30, 2008

Re: the need to implement a national strategy for urban, rural and remote broadband infrastructure installation and/or upgrading and community support programs that support effective use.

Dear Minister Clement:
On behalf of Telecommunities Canada, congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Industry.  We are a national coalition of community networking organizations.  We are committed to ensuring that all Canadians can participate in the social, political and economic life of their communities through ubiquitous access to broadband networks combined with support systems that enable effective use of these networks.  Our members represent community access programs across Canada which provide access and locally designed training and assistance to millions of Canadians annually. We hope to have an opportunity to meet with you and your advisors early in 2009 to discuss the following issues of common concern:
Our ability to compete in the global economy will depend on making our communities more resilient and less dependant on external supports.  Over the last few years, broadband has become an essential part of local infrastructure.  But we are still without a national strategy that supports and promotes the use of this new infrastructure for socio-economic development at the community level.   
Unfortunately, we have been losing ground in this area.  According to the most recent OECD report, over a five year period, Canada has moved from 2nd  to 10th  place on the list of connected nations with only 26.6 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. [1]  In order to move back into a position of strength, federal projects in communications must focus on three key areas: 
1.  Providing service to rural and remote areas that are not yet connected to broadband. 
Despite the general perception that Canada is a fairly connected nation, the reality is that abundant broadband capacity at affordable prices is still a distant dream for 3.5 million Canadians.[2]  In 2007, 37% of Canadian communities, many of them in rural and remote areas, were still unserved by broadband. [3]
In the implementation of such a program, every effort should be made to provide the types of connections and applications that address local and regional needs. 
In Ontario, remote and rural communities are working with regional networks, such as the Kuhkenah Network (K-Net, http://knet.ca) to support the sustainable operation and ongoing development of local community networks that are able to deliver a high quality of service for local applications like e-health, e-learning, e-justice and e-governance. It is a fine example of the fact that entirely community owned and managed networks are highly effective and should be encouraged.
  1. Bringing industrial strength broadband to all areas -- urban, rural, and remote.
Much of the current installed broadband does not have adequate capacity for bi-directional interactive communications.  In many areas, the available bandwidth is well below the level that would make telehealth, videoconferencing and complex business transactions a real option.
Although the current average download speed in Canada is 7.6 mpbs., [4] our members report that many rural and remote areas are coping with much less.  In the North, for example, the CRTC reports that 60% of telephone lines can provide 5 mbps. or higher.[5]  In reality, nobody is getting this kind of access unless it is three oclock in the morning according to a community access program administrator in Nunavut.[6]  A similar situation exists in numerous pockets of urban and suburban areas. The Learning Enrichment Foundation reports that the speed on the DSL line serving their location, 10 km from King and Bay in downtown Toronto, was recently cut by 50% to .5  mbps.   In comparison, average download speeds in Japan are 63.6 mbps and in France 17.6 mbps.[7]
Bill St. Arnaud, Chief Research Officer for CANARIE notes that the problem is structural. In Canada, we are still building a communications system designed for the previous century.  While other countries are improving their broadband penetration they are rapidly moving to next generation broadband technologies principally fiber to the home. Canada has virtually no fiber to the home initiatives.[8]
In next generation broadband technologies, which are capable of the vastly improved speeds, infrastructure is separated from service delivery. In such a model, broadband infrastructure is public infrastructure while competition is in the delivery of services.  This is a strategy that must be privileged when federal funds are put towards broadband capacity building.
  1. Strengthening and expanding the network of community access sites that enable effective use of new technologies.
Once access to broadband connections is established, there can still be many barriers to the effective use of these new tools.  Among these barriers are: low income and education levels, [9] language and cultural concerns, and literacy and disability issues.  The recent Telecommunications Policy Review Panel pointed out that communities need much more than access to technology. They also need access to the tools that will help them improve their broadband readiness and help their members not only learn how to use technology, but also develop applications and services tailored to their needs.[10] 
The national network of 3,500 Community Access Centers (CAP) that help more than 100,000 people per day to incorporate new technologies into their lives already form the backbone of such a support system.  Infrastructure funds destined to help build Canadas broadband capacity also need to be available to strengthen and expand this support network.
It is clear that getting it right in the communications sector is the key to Canadas long term capacity for innovation and effective competition.  Mr. St. Arnaud suggests that , [If] broadband internet is a fundamental platform for innovation and societal transformation like roads and electricity . [than] society as a whole, in addition to industry, have an important role in its evolution.[11]   As an organization with experience, grassroots support and national coverage, we believe we can make an important contribution to this transformational project.
We are anxious to work with you and your advisors on a new broadband strategy for Canadians.  We look forward to meeting with you.
Gareth Shearman
Telecommunities Canada


[1] Nowak, Peter. (2008). Canadas global edge in broadband dwindling. CBC News, May 20, 2008. http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/05/20/tech-broadband.html
[2] Conservative Party of Canada.  (2008) Ensuring a modern economy. News release, Oct. 11, 2008. http://www.conservative.ca/EN/1091/107195
[3] Gerald Chouinard.  Program Manager. (2007). IEEE 802.22 Standard for Rural Broadband; State of Development.  Communications Research Centre Canada presentation . http://www.crc.ca/files/crc/home/research/rrba/RRBA_Presentation_29Nov07.ppt
[4] Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. (2008). 2008 ITIF Broadband Rankings http://www.itif.org/files/2008BBRankings.pdf CRTC.
[5] (2008) Communications  Monitoring Report. http://www.crtc.gc.ca/Eng/publications/reports/PolicyMonitoring/2008/cmr2008.htm#s53
[6] Private e-mail. 
[7] Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. (2008). 2008 ITIF Broadband Rankings http://www.itif.org/files/2008BBRankings.pdf
[8] St. Arnaud, Bill. (2007).  International broadband developments and the development of green broadband.  Presentation to Canadian Heritage.  January 29, 2007.  http://www.canarie.ca/canet4/library/recent_presentations.html
[9] Statistics Canada, (2006). "Canadian Internet Use Survey." The Daily, Tuesday, August 15. http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/060815/d060815b.htm
[10] Telecommunications Policy Review Panel. (2006). Final Report.  Chapter 8: Connectivity: Completing the Job.  http://www.telecomreview.ca/eic/site/tprp-gecrt.nsf/eng/rx00062.html#T6
[11] St. Arnaud.  Ibid.