#CyberFLASH: Mapping Out the CRTC Blueprint for Universal Affordable Internet Access

typing-darkIn the wake of nearly two decades of study, debate, task forces, and government programs, Canada’s telecommunications regulator has begun to unveil its blueprint for ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. If the plan rolls out as many expect, Canadians in urban areas will benefit from a more competitive environment for high-speed fibre services, while consumers in rural and remote areas will be guaranteed access through a clear legal commitment to universal broadband service.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that part one of the blueprint was released last week as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected opposition from large cable and telecom providers by ordering them to offer independent Internet providers wholesale access to emerging high-speed fibre networks.

The decision on wholesale access is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle pitting telecom giants such as Bell and Telus against upstart providers like TekSavvy and Distributel. Recognizing the advantages held by incumbent providers who enjoy direct connections to consumers (the so-called “last mile”), Canadian regulations foster a more competitive environment by requiring the incumbents to grant independent providers sufficient access to allow for alternative consumer choice.

The system has succeeded in developing some credible independents, yet the market remains dominated by the larger players. Part of the problem has been the steady stream of technical and regulatory challenges faced by smaller entrants, who seemingly have little choice but to take each dispute to the CRTC, leading to costlier offerings, slower speeds, and less product differentiation.

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