The CRTC is currently in the middle of a three week hearing on basic telecommunications services , which has been hashtagged as #TalkBroadband because it really is about whether broadband should be regulated as a basic telecommunications service (“BSO” – basic service offering) and at what capacity. It’s pretty telecomm and I don’t do well with telecomm (Bram Abramson did promise me a ‘Telecomm for Dummies’ tutorial or series of blog posts and I will pin him down to do that at some point) but the discussions have been far ranging and quite interesting even for a content policy wonk like myself.
I glaze over at discussions of bandwidth and speed. I shouldn’t but as ‘good enough’ is a constantly moving target I find the discussion of what should be the minimum a bit of a mug’s game. As soon as the CRTC sets a goal or mandates minimums they’ll be out of date. It’s important to be fast enough and for the network to be able to handle the capacity no matter where you live but I’ll leave it to others to decided what those goals or mandated minimums should be and how often they should be updated.
As a content policy wonk I’m more interested in the discussion about affordable universal access because I know that before long everyone will need access to broadband to have the choice to watch a variety of entertainment programming. I don’t want to see anyone left behind because they can’t afford it, there isn’t appropriate infrastructure or they don’t have the necessary digital literacy to take full advantage of this world or even know that they should want it.
Until recently, the government and the CRTC have been focused on ensuring that rural and northern communities were connected and a lot of the discussion during the #TalkBroadband hearing has continued to focus on it. During this hearing there has been a broadening of the discussion though to include urban affordability both on the part of intervenors and through questions raised by commissioners. If access to broadband is essential to citizenship then the CRTC has to consider establishing rules or guidelines to ensure that all Canadians have access, that they can afford, to broadband regardless of where they live.
I’ve been working with Syrian refugees recently and it really brought home to me how important broadband is to citizenship and how difficult it is to pay for it on a reduced income. Social assistance barely covers rent in Toronto plus food and electricity. Families also need at least two mobile phones and an Internet connection to be able to communicate with each other, access government and settlement services and keep in touch with family back home. I would also like them to be able to access Canadian programming to help them settle in their new country. Cable is just too expensive but at least with an Internet connection they can access CBC.ca and other (possibly less Canadian) broadcaster websites as well as content in their own language.
From this experience I am even more convinced of the importance of broadband to citizenship but it doesn’t stop there. I’ve also been listening at this hearing to great examples of the importance of broadband to isolated communities in the north, minority language communities and rural communities. I look forward to other examples over the course of the hearings from other stakeholders.
The Commission is also starting to talk about digital literacy and the fact that it isn’t good enough to just present access but we need to ensure that everyone knows how to access broadband and why they should want to. Should there be funding from stakeholders or the government and how should it be implemented to ensure that no one is left behind. Interesting discussions.
To bring it back to content creators and providers, as we move into a multiplatform or platform neutral world, we need to ensure that the entire country has the opportunity to chose Canadian programming on whatever platform it is presented. We should be struggling with the issues of regulation or not, contributions to Canadian programming or not, and not have to wonder if any segment of the population has been left out of the system that we are trying to create.
That’s why I’m listening.
*I gave up on watching it on CPAC because, ironically, the online feed kept breaking up so I’ve just been on the CRTC’s audio feed.