Monday, August 23, 2010

Canada: broadband "a basic service"?


Last week Canada's Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) published Is Broadband Basic Service?, which calls for the establishment of broadband as basic service for Canadians, just as the telephone service was established as a need for every citizen in the last century. Some commentary available here.

PIAC is "a non-profit organization that provides legal and research services on behalf of consumer interests, and, in particular, vulnerable consumer interests, concerning the provision of important public services." From the report's executive summary:
"Canada was considered a world leader in broadband availability by the OECD as early as 2003. Today, our ranking amongst OECD members has dropped sharply to the bottom quartile of the list. PIAC is concerned that Canadian consumers are not guaranteed access to broadband services the way consumers in many other countries are today. Access to broadband has important economic, social and cultural ramifications for Canadians and without it, Canadian consumers risk falling behind in today’s increasingly online interconnected world. PIAC believes that broadband should be considered an essential service and be made available to all Canadian consumers, regardless of their place of residence...The chief characteristics of any such plan would be that it would be comprehensive, competitively neutral, flexible enough to accommodate technological developments, and subject to effective market or regulatory discipline with respect to costs."
PIAC's report follows the February 2010 publication of Navigating Convergence by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). This addressed broadband universal service as an appendix, identifying the following as the benefits of universal provision:
  • improved education and new opportunities for post-secondary education; students and teachers have access to more education materials; students living in rural and remote areas have increased distance-learning choices;
  • improved health care via e-health applications, enabling better collaboration and sharing of patient files; this is of particular benefit to patients in rural and remote areas, enabling medical professionals in these areas to have access to diagnostic services and consultation with colleagues in urban areas;
  • new business and improved business opportunities including telecommuting, e-commerce and online marketing; broadband access is also leading to improved productivity and competitiveness of resource-based, agricultural and manufacturing industries, ultimately boosting GDP;
  • better access to government services (such as e-tax filing), improved access to information about public policy issues and increased opportunities to participate in civic activities;
  • access to news and information. The Internet is becoming a key way to obtain news and information, taking market share away from traditional media and providing access to a wider source of international information;
  • greater diversity of voices and another platform for Canadian content; the broad range of entertainment services and applications enabled by broadband access provides new methods of cultural expression;and
  • the potential to remove location as a restriction for participation in society, which enables better social inclusion for individuals living in remote communities.
Good to see education and healthcare at the top of CRTC's list, and broadband's potential "to remove location as a restriction for participation in society" is a phrase well worth remembering. There can be few places on earth as remote and isolated as parts of Canada.

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