(Adds reaction from groups)
By Leah Schnurr
GATINEAU, Quebec Dec 21 Broadband internet
access will be considered a basic service in Canada, the
country's telecom regulator ruled on Wednesday, paving the way
for universal access to high-speed services in rural and
isolated areas of the country.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission (CRTC) said it was establishing a fund providers will
pay into to invest C$750 million ($560 million) over five years
to build or upgrade broadband infrastructure to improve access
in underserved areas.
The CRTC set a target download speed of 50 megabits per
second, 10 times its previous, and recommended providers offer
unlimited data for fixed broadband. About 82 percent of
Canadians had access to those speeds last year.
Declaring broadband an essential service means it should be
available to all Canadians, though establishing high-speed
access in remote areas remains an expensive proposition for
"These goals are ambitious. They will not be easy to achieve
and they will cost money," Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said. "But
we have no choice."
The regulator did not set a price cap, which could have
eroded the profits of telecom operators whose revenue from
internet access has outstripped television services.
"The CRTC is putting out a call for the government to lead
the way on broadband access," said Laura Tribe, executive
director of advocacy group OpenMedia.
Internet revenues will now be included in the calculation of
what companies have to pay for the new fund, potentially
chipping away at an increasingly profitable area as consumers
Companies that make C$10 million or more already contribute
a percentage of their profits to subsidize basic phone services.
Companies currently pay about 0.5 percent of their telecom
revenue, with the fund at about C$100 million.
Companies made C$9.81 billion from the supply of internet
connections in 2015, topping the C$8.92 billion they made from
television subscriptions, the CRTC said recently.
Companies that cannot meet the targets can apply for
financing, but only those that receive money will be obliged to.
Blais called the fund "an important carrot" to getting
companies to meet the targets.
David Watt, a senior vice president at Rogers Communications
Inc, said the company "was encouraged by this
reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard to
reach areas of our country."
BCE Inc, Canada's largest telecommunications
company, said it was reviewing the decision.
The funding will be on top of the C$500 million over five
years the government allocated in its budget for improving
broadband in remote communities.
($1 = $1.34 Canadian)
(Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto; editing by
Alan Crosby, Bernard Orr)