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Summary

On March 19, 2019, the Canadian government announced plans to bring broadband of at least 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speeds to 95% of premises by 2026. By 2030, the government plans to deliver these speeds universally to every home and business, which is in keeping with the broadband internet speed objective set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for households and businesses across the country. Currently, 1.5 million households do not have access to internet connections with these speeds.

Besides encouraging broadband investment, operators must overcome geographical and technological challenges

On March 19, 2019, in its annual budget, the Canadian government announced plans to bring broadband with speeds of at least 50/10Mbps to 95% of premises by 2026, and universally to every home and business by 2030. This is in line with the national broadband speed targets set by the CRTC back in December 2016. The CRTC announced that broadband access with a 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speed has become a basic right for all citizens after being included in the country's universal service obligation (USO).

These speeds were identified by the CRTC to enable the public to take advantage of cloud-based software applications, government services, online learning resources, and HD streaming videos. Traditionally, USOs in most countries have centered on fixed voice capabilities and only functional internet connections. However, it is important that citizens have access to a fast and reliable internet connection, especially in more rural communities in the north of Canada and remote areas.

Once the existing broadband programs are completed in 2021, 90% of citizens will have access to reliable internet with speeds of 50/10Mbps. Even so, 1.5 million households will still be underserved. To support existing initiatives, the 2019 budget has proposed a coordinated plan to deliver a further CAN$5–6bn ($3.7–4.5bn) in rural broadband investments over the next 10 years. The plan includes:

  • support through the Accelerated Investment Incentive to encourage greater investments in rural high-speed internet from the private sector. To date, telecoms companies have promised to allocate more than CAN$1bn ($746.8m) worth of private sector activity, focused on providing better internet access to unserved or underserved communities. The Accelerated Investment Incentive is also expected to help deploy next-generation digital technologies, such as 5G, across the country

  • greater coordination with provinces, territories, and institutions (such as the CRTC) and the government's five-year CAN$750m ($560.1m) rural and remote broadband fund. The fund aims to improve internet access in underserved areas, and supports projects to build infrastructure to provide fixed and mobile wireless broadband internet services to unserved rural, remote, and northern communities.

  • CAN$1.7bn ($1.3bn) in new investments in the successful Connect to Innovate program, and the launch of a new Universal Broadband Fund to focus on extending backbone infrastructure to underserved communities. For the most hard-to-reach communities, funding may also support last-mile connections to individual homes and businesses. Since launching the Connect to Innovate program in 2016, the government has leveraged CAN$554m ($414m) from the private sector and other levels of government for approximately 180 projects so far

  • included in the new Universal Broadband Fund, the government will look to secure advanced, new low-latency Low Earth Orbit satellite capacity. A process will be launched in 2Q19 to bring reliable high-speed internet access to even the most challenging to reach rural and remote homes and communities in Canada

  • new investments by the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). The CIB will seek to invest up to CAN$1bn ($746.8m) over the next 10 years, and leverage at least CAN$2bn ($1.5bn) in private capital, to increase broadband access for Canadians.

Not only are there national investment plans in Canada but also funding has been made available at a provincial level; for example, the Government of Nova Scotia established an internet funding trust to help connect more communities, homes, and businesses across the province. The Government of British Columbia also announced in its 2019 budget that it is expanding high-speed internet service to more than 200 communities in that province.

As Ovum's Universal Broadband Tracker: 2018 shows, the level of government involvement in improving internet coverage in a country differs considerably across the world from being fully government financed and controlled (such as in Italy and Australia), through to being fully private sector financed and operated (such as Japan, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates). Canada, on the other hand, has chosen to follow a path where there is government input such as funds, facilitation, and pilots to encourage the private sector to also invest. Ultimately, there is no right answer here. The most suitable approach depends on the targets and market context.

While financing and encouraging investment in internet connections is crucial, this is not the only challenge operators face in Canada. They also have to overcome technology constraints and challenges of distance and geography to ensure that universal coverage is reached by 2030. Canada is a vast country in terms of landmass, and it also has very low population density in rural and remote areas. Consequently, building broadband infrastructure would take much longer and be more expensive compared with much smaller countries. Operators must also overcome problems with maintaining a similar level of service to all citizens. Considering the variations in geography across the country, operators will have to utilize a range of different technologies, such as wireless networks and satellite communications, to deliver their services. However, the quality of these services differs depending on the type of technology deployed, and some technologies are not very affordable for customers.

Appendix

Further reading

Universal Broadband Tracker: 2018, GLB005-000085 (October 2018)

"Canadian regulator sets up new fund to finance updated broadband USO target," TE0007-001124 (February 2017)

Author

Sarah McBride, Analyst, Regulation

sarah.mcbride@ovum.com

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