Canadian Regulators Declare 50 Mbps To Be The New Broadband Standard

from the high-water-mark dept

A few years back, the FCC here in the States bumped the base definition of broadband from 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream, to 25 Mbps downstream, 4 Mbps upstream. This was done in large part to highlight the lack of competition (two-thirds lack access to speeds of 25 Mbps from more than one provider) at faster speeds, largely thanks to telcos that no longer really want to be in the residential broadband business and are refusing to upgrade their networks at any scale. Needless to say, neither ISPs -- nor the politicians paid to love them -- were happy with the new standard.

Recently the Canadian government took things further, announcing new rules that make 50 Mbps downstream, 10 Mbps upstream the new industry standard. In addition to declaring that this 50 Mbps option should be considered "basic telecom service" moving forward, the CRTC announced that it's requiring that Canadian ISPs at least offer users the ability to purchase an uncapped, unlimited broadband connection.

According to the CRTC, 82% of Canadians already have access to speeds of 50 Mbps -- but like in the States, availability for these faster options are incredibly scarce in more remote areas where competitive incentive is minimal and deployment costs are higher. To that end, the CRTC said it's setting aside a $750 million subsidy fund to shore up backbone connectivity. The CRTC Is claiming that the effort should result in 50 Mbps service being made available to 90% of Canadian households by the end of 2021, and to the remaining 10% of households within 10 to 15 years after that.

Of course, telecom subsidies are nothing new, and the amount of money thrown at incumbent broadband providers in North America probably could have delivered gigabit fiber connections to every home on the planet several times over. These efforts are usually well-intentioned, but things quite frequently get lost in translation thanks to telecom providers with significant influence over the regulators and legislatures tasked with making sure this money gets spent effectively.

And while the 50 Mbps high-water mark is important in a sense, it's also partially theatrical. Telecom regulators have a long, proud history of announcing initiatives that sound transformative, but can often be achieved without much government help. When the "goal" is achieved down the road with minimal calorie expenditure, government often steps in to pat itself on the back for a job well done. Doing anything more would require actually standing up to some of the most politically influential companies on the continent.

And again in this case, Canadian Law Professor Michael Geist is quick to point out that the plan isn't as revolutionary as it's being portrayed:
"It would be a stretch to describe expanding access to these target speeds to an additional 8 per cent of the population over five years as transformative. In fact, given the investments from various providers, it raises the question of whether Canada might reach that target without the CRTC’s efforts. Indeed, the real challenge remains the last 10 per cent in rural and remote areas for which there are no easy answers.

Affordability goes hand-in-hand with access, yet the CRTC largely punted this issue, noting that “a comprehensive solution to affordability issues will require a multifaceted approach, including the participation of other stakeholders.” That places much of the responsibility on the government, but the CRTC had the opportunity to push providers harder on affordability. The Commission points to innovative solutions from some companies – Rogers and Telus are obvious examples – but leaves observers to wonder why it did not go further by setting goals or targets for industry laggards."
You'll note that much like its regulators to the south, the CRTC punts when it comes to actually acknowledging the lack of broadband market competition and the high prices and poor service that results. This lack of competition also introduces the thorniest telecom issues of the day: including net neutrality violations and the slow but steady expansion of usage caps and overage fees. It's easier to focus on shoring up remaining coverage gaps, especially when the government won't have to do all that much to ensure service (albeit incredibly expensive service) arrives via 5G and other new technologies.

With a few exceptions, a good rule of thumb with government broadband announcements like this is: if the incumbent ISPs are ok with it, it either doesn't do all that much or provides them money for doing very little. And based on a review of the newswires, Canadian incumbent ISPs aren't complaining about this new, supposedly lofty plan in the slightest.
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Filed Under: broadband, canada

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2017 @ 4:05pm

    Honestly the 10 Mbs up is going to be the biggest fight. Many ISPs here in Canada offer 1/10th the speed up that they provide downstream. No one is really sure why, but them's the breaks.

    And speaking of breaks, the work for a high upstream speed is going to cause a lot of convenient downtime.

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