October 25th, 2020

CRTC has limited powers about rural broadband, says official

By Kalinowski, Tim on November 6, 2019.

Linda Vennard, CRTC regional commissioner for Alberta and Northwest Territories, speaks at the start of a southern Alberta stakeholders meeting Tuesday at city hall. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regional commissioner for Alberta/Northwest Territories Linda Vennard met with local officials, business representatives and media personnel at the Culver City Room at city hall on Tuesday for a roundtable discussion on rural broadband in the region.

While Vennard praised the efforts of local communities in bringing the issue to the fore, she said the powers the CRTC have are actually quite limited to ensure this “essential service” is provided either by municipalities or corporate entities.

“The idea that broadband is a human right is not enshrined in anything, which is not to say it is not a good idea,” stated Vennard. “It’s certainly not part of our mandate. Should it be part of anybody’s mandate? I think that is up to everybody to decide if it should be a right or not … We don’t have a hammer.”

Vennard was asked by roundtable participants what kinds of powers the CRTC does have to compel companies or municipalities to provide this essential service even if the business case might not be there for them.

Vennard said the CRTC could set aspirational goals to meet such as saying every jurisdiction should have 50 Mbps download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed, but unless federal legislation changes to give the CRTC more teeth there was very little it could do beyond that. The current communication acts which govern the CRTC were laid down in 1992 and 1994, she said, and don’t fully account for the developments of broadband or high-speed internet found today.

“They are very blunt tools; so it is like trying to do brain surgery with a kitchen knife. They are not great tools, but it is all we’ve got.”

Vennard hoped new powers could come in after the current legislative review of the CRTC’s role in regulation of communications, and maybe the federal government would provide a clear pathway forward for the CRTC and internet service providers, especially when it comes to rural broadband access.

“We were having these kinds of conversations 10 years ago, but now it is 10 years later and we should have moved a little bit forward,” Vennard said. “But we haven’t yet. But I am encouraged by the amount of initiative I think the communities show in my region; especially the southern part of the province. You have to run with it; you really do. And it is good to see that. Because I think that is a large part of how this whole broadband problem is going to be solved.”

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