TORONTO – The Government of Canada is focussed on making high quality and affordable telecommunications services available to Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Speaking at the Canadian Telecom Summit, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, stated that the Government of Canada intends to address the digital divide in Canada. According to Minister Bains, Canadians need quality coverage at affordable prices “regardless of their income level or postal code” and stated that the digital divide is “unacceptable”.
Speaking to a room filled with representatives from the telecom, broadcast, and IT industries, the Minister thanked them for their ongoing investment in Canada’s technological networks, saying that because of these efforts “Canada has some of the most advanced and efficient telecom networks”. As well, Minister Bains highlighted the efforts of Rogers and Telus to provide affordable Internet access to low income Canadians.
Calling Internet services “basic and essential tools for all Canadians,” Minister Bains stated that Canadians “need these services to do business, learn new skills, and more importantly, build communities”.
Minister Bains noted, however, that Canadians currently pay more for basic cellular phone services than consumers in the United States and United Kingdom. These price comparisons may be based off of a 2016 report prepared for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) by Nordicity.
The Minister said he is encouraging service providers to offer more options at better prices, better coverage and access, and faster networks. Minister Bains also announced that the Government will be directing the CRTC to reconsider its recent decision on Wholesale mobile wireless roaming service tariffs (CRTC 2017-56).
Minister Bains hopes the CRTC will rethink the decision, which effectively prevents Wi-Fi-based service providers from accessing roaming services. The Minister believes that such services have the potential to allow companies to use these technologies to create lower-cost wireless services for Canadians and would like the CRTC to reconsider the Wi-Fi-based roaming model.
At the Canadian Telecom Summit, Minister Bains stated that “raising the prosperity of Canadians depends on their access to high quality, high-speed Internet”. His comments were framed in the context of the government’s most recent budget, which included its Innovation and Skills Plan.
According to Minister Bains, it is through telecom networks that it will be possible to turn “consumers into producers, observers into participants, and users into innovators”.
In his keynote, the Minister stated access to affordable telecom services can be a significant barrier preventing low income Canadians from fully participating in the digital economy and the economy, in general. “There is no difference to the digital economy and the rest of the economy. The digital economy is the economy,” Minister Bains said.
In a 2016 report to the CRTC, analysts and academics Reza Rajabiun, David Ellis, and Catherine Middleton (the Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society), express similar findings and concerns, arguing:
“It is important to recognize that the increasing essentiality of fixed and mobile broadband services as an essential enabler of social and economic activities for the vast majority of the population makes affordability of these services a question of general policy interest.” (at p. 2).
In many respects, there is a general agreement around the importance of bridging the geographic and economic digital divides in Canada but questions remain about how to solve these problems. Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, co-founder of the Canadian Telecom Summit, has long advocated for improving access for low-income Canadians and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has issued reports on the topic from the consumer rights and public interest perspectives.
With the Government of Canada reviewing both the Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts, it will be important for Minister Bains and his Ministry of Heritage colleague Mélanie Joly to ensure that legislative reforms and forthcoming policies address digital divides in various ways and allow all Canadians to benefit from the government’s Innovation Agenda.
Joseph F. Turcotte is a Senior Editor with the IPilogue and the IP Osgoode Innovation Clinic Coordinator. He holds a PhD from the Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture (Politics & Policy) at York University and Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada), where he focused on the roles that knowledge, information, data, and intellectual property play in knowledge-based and digital economies. He can be reached on Twitter: @joefturcotte.
 The Canadian Telecom Summit brings together the leadership of Canada’s telecom, broadcast, and IT industries. For its 16th year, the Canadian Telecom Summit is focussing on “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future” and features keynote presentations and panel discussions on the range of issues facing industry and public policy makers in Canada.