I'll introduce the witnesses.
From the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, we have Bernard Lord, the president and chief executive officer. With him is Devon Jacobs, senior director of government affairs.
From Xplornet Communications Inc., we welcome Allison Lenehan, president, and C.J. Prudham, executive vice-president and general counsel.
From Communitech, we have Avvey Peters, vice-president, external relations.
And ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Melbourne, Australia, we have Catherine Middleton. I know it says she's a professor at Ryerson University, but she's not local; she's actually in Melbourne, Australia, and I think fifteen hours ahead of us. We want to first say thank you very much for getting up profoundly early.
Colleagues, it's always easy to forget the TV screen, but particularly because of Ms. Middleton's Herculean effort to be with us, please remember that we have this witness before us.
I'll begin with Mr. Lord, who will have the opening remarks for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.
Please proceed, sir.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It is a pleasure for us to meet with you today to discuss broadband and Internet access.
I am very pleased to be here on behalf of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, and to be with our senior director of government affairs, Devon Jacobs.
We have presented a slide deck that you have in front of you. I'm not going to go through all of it, but I want to present it to you for information purposes. I would ask you to follow with me on some of the items.
As you will see today, wireless service in Canada really is the future of the digital economy. The future of the digital economy is mobile and it is wireless.
Wireless in Canada is competitive—it's jobs, it's investments, it's growth, it's smart phones, it's Canadians having access to the service, where they want, when they want, to do whatever they want, basically.
Let's look at some quick facts—that's slide 3 of the presentation. Wireless coverage in Canada reaches over 99% of the population, and 99% of the population has 3G coverage or faster.
In Canada we have deployed, and we are deploying, LTE, the fastest wireless technology available in the world. Canadians are known to be among the world's fastest adopters of smart phones and tablets. In fact, when you look at the younger generation of Canadians, from 18 to 34, you'll see that over three-quarters of those Canadians already have a smart phone or a tablet.
Data traffic in Canada is growing extremely fast—and I'll share with you why—at a rate of almost 5% on most of our networks. In fact, an Industry Canada report released last summer projected that there would be a 30 times growth of data traffic on wireless networks in Canada over the next five years.
Canadians sent over 274 million text messages per day this year. That's more than 10 million every single hour.
One thing about the Canadian wireless marketplace is that it is very competitive. If you look at slide 5, you'll see where we stand compared to other OECD markets, in terms of concentration of markets. Canada is one of the least concentrated marketplaces in the OECD, so you could say that Canada is one of the most competitive marketplaces in the OECD.
If you look at slide 6, you will see some of the benefits of wireless in Canada.
We see that the wireless industry has added approximately $43 billion to the Canadian economy, including $18 billion to GDP directly and roughly $16 billion in economic benefits indirectly.
As for investments, let us look at table 7. We can see that major investments have been made over the last few years. Over $11 billion has been invested in the wireless industry from 2008 to 2011, and close to $24 billion over the past decade.
If you combine slides 8 and 9, you will see there's a growth in terms of subscribers in Canada. You will see that when subscribers switch from a traditional cellphone to a smart phone—this is slide 9—that's like adding 35 other people to your network, because they now consume more bandwidth through data consumption. This is an important slide to take a look at because you can see how it is represented when they move from a traditional phone to a tablet or a computer connected through a dongle.
One area in Canada where we don't fare as well is in fees that are paid to the government for licensing. We have one of the highest administrative licence fees paid to governments in the G-8. This is slide 11. Luckily, the Government of Canada, about three years ago, announced it was freezing the formula, which is good. Over time, we would like that formula to be changed to fall in line with other G-8 countries.
I'm moving very quickly here because there are a lot of things to talk about when we talk about wireless, broadband, and Internet access. But one thing we are doing, and what the industry is doing, is we are working better with our partners. We asked the CRTC last year to work on a national code of conduct for wireless services. Those hearings were held last month. There is one key thing we're looking for: we want a national code that applies from coast to coast.
We believe it is essential to have the same code of conduct for all provinces across the country.
We're also working more closely than ever before with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities when it comes to antenna siting. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago we signed a new protocol with FCM on how we will work together to improve coverage in cities and municipalities across the country.
We also launched a new initiative to fight device theft. You can get the information on slide 15. I am moving along.
On slide 16 you will see all the social responsibility initiatives we have launched as an association with our members, from recycling, to wireless amber alerts, to the Mobile Giving Foundation, and more.
I'll be happy to answer any questions on this. I just want to take the last 30 seconds to really focus on the key recommendations.
One, include a recommendation in the committee's report that the government should set out a timetable for bringing the administrative fees paid by Canadian wireless carriers in line with other G-7 counties.
Two, issue an updated spectrum release plan for Canada. This is essential. If we want to be able to meet the growing demand in Canada for wireless, we need more spectrum. Without more spectrum, Canadians will feel the data crunch and they will not be able to have access to the services they want.
Three, earmark sufficient funds for upcoming wireless spectrum auctions to contribute to strategic initiatives identified by the government as priorities in the digital economy. That could be lawful intercept requirements for telecommunication service providers.
Four, the Government of Canada should defend its jurisdiction over telecommunication when it comes to antenna sitings and when it comes to consumer code for mobile wireless services.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, Mr. Clerk, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue.
I am Allison Lenehan, president of Xplornet Communications. We are Canada's leading provider of rural broadband. We only serve rural Canada.
Xplornet has raised and invested over $800 million of private capital. We have done what other telecom companies and government thought impossible. We have made high-speed Internet available to 100% of Canadians. That's right, 100%. There's nowhere in Canada we cannot reach with high-speed Internet.
First, I have a note on what rural means. Rural is not a place; it is a density. On page 4 of our handout we are showing you just outside the city limits of Waterloo, Ontario. It looks the same outside every city and town in Canada. We need to use the best technology to fit the density. If there are fewer than 30 households per square kilometre at any given place, then using wires to deliver broadband to homes and businesses is uneconomical. There you use fixed wireless or satellite. We simply cannot wire the second largest country in the world, nor do we need to.
We use two technologies to serve rural Canadians, both wirelessly based to enable ubiquitous coverage. For more than 92% of Canadians, it means 4G service. We were the first telecom in Canada to launch a national 4G network specifically for rural broadband, using hundreds of 4G wireless towers and two new high throughput satellites to deliver 4G service from coast to coast.
All this technology means that rural Canadians in the 4G footprint will, starting next week, have access to speeds of 10 megabits per second at prices similar to what urban Canadians pay. That is twice the CRTC goal of 5 megabits per second and ahead of schedule.
The remaining 8% of Canadians will have access to speeds of 3 megabits per second. That means every home in Canada will have access to at least 3 megabits.
On page 6 you will find the details of our service packages. That is not mobile broadband like the one used to do light Googling on your smart phone. This is real broadband for the home, just like urban customers use at their home or office.
That's the good news, but there are challenges: one, capacity to meet future needs, and two, adoption of broadband. We can address adoption once we have solved the first problem of sufficient access capacity. The capacity situation is more ominous. There is the potential for one of our game-changing technologies to be literally choked off by policy.
Slides 8 through 14 tell the story. To deliver wireless Internet, we need radio spectrum. As consumer demand continues to grow, the need for spectrum grows. Spectrum is optioned and licensed by Industry Canada, but the nature of the rules around the auction and licensing processes are such that rural ISPs—Xplornet and hundreds of others—cannot buy spectrum because spectrum is auctioned in blocks that include major cities.
For example, to buy Durham, Ontario, we have to buy all of the greater Toronto area. That is not feasible. The end result is that rural ISPs cannot get spectrum and the big telcos end up with vast amounts of rural spectrum far beyond what they could ever use for mobile cellular services that go unused.
Slides 10 and 11 show excess rural spectrum that is a vital resource, which can be used, as opposed to completely wasted, when desperately needed rural Internet services can be provided.
Industry Canada has made no plans to make spectrum for rural Canadian Internet, when it would be easy to do so. It could be done either by designating some spectrum to be for rural Canada or by simply taking back spectrum that has been hoarded and unused by Canadian companies and assigning it for rural broadband use.
Please don't just take our word for it. Attached at the back of your packages is the support of a couple of our municipalities.
Finally, we are pleased to have worked so hard to get rural Canadians access to real affordable broadband in their homes. In the next three to five years, we could deliver 100 megabits per second to all Canadians, but only if we have access to affordable spectrum. The private sector has the money and technology. We need your help with the public spectrum.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before you today.
I represent Communitech, which is the Waterloo region technology organization. We're home to almost 1,000 companies in the region.
Given the matter under consideration today, I want to share with you a perspective that goes beyond Waterloo region tech companies, one that we've gained through our national initiative, the Canadian Digital Media Network. We launched the CDMN, as it's called, in 2009 in an effort to connect the Waterloo region tech cluster to clusters across the country. We now have 21 hubs on this network, from Vancouver through to Fredericton.
Every year, the CDMN embarks on a series of regional meetings designed to gather the perspectives of industry, academic, and government leaders. We are measuring progress against an agenda that we affectionately call our moonshot: that anyone can do anything online in Canada by 2017. The moonshot has five priority areas, one of which is connectivity for Canadians of any financial status and geographic location. l'd like to share with you today a few of the highlights of those regional consultations around the priority of connectivity.
In Stratford, Ontario, our participants emphasized the importance of Internet soft infrastructure as a vital counterpart to the physical infrastructure that connects the nation. Just as road and rail are vital to the health of manufacturing, so is fast and affordable connectivity considered critical to the health of digital companies and the technology industry.
In Stratford, they shared a significant interest in private-sector-led solutions to Canada's connectivity challenges. Companies like Fibernetics, with its Fongo application, and Google, with its Fiber to the Home project in Kansas City, are showing how market solutions can address both affordability and connection speed.
In Vancouver, B.C., our delegates told us that the broadband infrastructure, particularly in the City of Vancouver, is not adequate to their needs and not affordable for small business. The most significant issue that they identified is a lack of fibre, which restrains digital media and gaming technology companies. Vancouver-based companies in that niche feel that they're at a competitive disadvantage because they're having difficulty transferring content to their customers.
In response to this level of access, some individual companies are developing their own solutions, but this means that improvements are happening at a micro level, not a macro level.
Northern Canadian delegates gathered in Ottawa and suggested that a national bandwidth development strategy could help address the severe connectivity issues faced in the north. They pointed to business opportunities that could be enabled with improved connectivity. One example that was shared was a Nunavut business trying to communicate with distant customers; they were shipping Arctic char to restaurants in New York City.
In Calgary, delegates agreed that soft infrastructure is critical to the success of commercial activity, but they also argued that the value proposition to companies has to be clear. The private sector needs to demonstrate how faster and less expensive Internet access will allow for the exploration of new companies, new job possibilities, and new wealth creation.
In Fredericton, our participants agreed that Canada's success in the digital economy requires a close, holistic examination of national connectivity. The New Brunswick delegates affirmed that content is actually key to user engagement, and that improving the quality and quantity of digital content will drive greater demand for connectivity. They called for a more transparent connectivity framework and emphasized the importance of convergence between content and infrastructure.
In conclusion, I wanted to relay to the committee what we've been hearing, which is that ubiquitous, affordable, high-speed broadband is a critical investment in Canada's future. We've heard that connectivity is a key factor in new business creation and growth. While no single set of solutions has emerged from our consultations, the CDMN and its partners are eager to participate in discussions like the one you're having here today. Please count on us as a resource to help as you go forward.
Thank you very much.
Great. Thank you very much for making this possible.
My name is Catherine Middleton. I'm an academic at the Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto. I have focused on the development and use of broadband networks in Canada since the late 1990s. My focus is primarily residential and consumer use.
I want to make four points. I want to talk about the vision for broadband in Canada. I want to ask some questions about what kinds of networks we need to realize this vision, a question of supply. I have questions about how we ensure broad uptake of these networks to enable socio-economic benefit across society, and think about how we track our progress—that's a data question.
If we look at vision first, the question is, what do we want to be able to do with broadband connectivity? Other countries have articulated a set of objectives. They have national broadband plans; they have digital strategies. At present, Canada doesn't have either of these. The digital economy consultation paper done in 2010 notes that Canada needs a world-class digital infrastructure, but at the moment it's not clear exactly how Canada is going to develop that infrastructure without a clear vision to guide it.
Because we don't have vision, it's not entirely clear what kinds of networks we need, so I believe there needs to be a discussion about what we want broadband networks to be able to do. Once we understand that better, then we can understand the sorts of networks that should be available. The questions we need to consider are the sorts of speeds we need, and not just download speeds but upload speeds as well. What quality of networks do we need? We clearly need to have reliable quality networks. Do we need quality of service guarantees on these networks?
Do we need to have uniform networks? Is it important that Canadians across the country have access to similar networks so that we can roll out services across the country? Do we need ubiquitous connectivity? I'm thinking partially about mobile connectivity. While a lot of discussion about broadband is about fixed broadband, what sorts of plans should we have in place to consider mobile broadband connectivity? If we were to develop a target for broadband going beyond the CRTC's target of a five-megabit-per-second download and a one-megabit-per-second upload service available to all by 2015, should we be looking at a similar target for mobile broadband connectivity?
How do we encourage broad uptake of broadband networks so they enable socio-economic benefit across Canadian society? This is really a demand question. Unfortunately, we don't have a huge amount of recent data; 2010 is the latest publicly available Statistics Canada data. It suggests that 80% of Canadian households had Internet access. Almost all of that was broadband, but it was unevenly distributed. So 97% of the top-income quartile of Canadians had access, compared to 54% of the bottom quartile. We still have a digital divide, and this is a challenge we have to address.
In 2010 half the households that had no Internet access said they had no need for it. Is this a problem? Isn't this a problem? We need to better understand what is and isn't driving people to use broadband networks, and then if it's part of our national vision that everybody has access to broadband, we need to start thinking about how we can encourage more people to make use of these services and to obtain them in the first place.
One of the numbers provided by the CRTC in its communication monitoring report is that 75% of Canadian households had access to broadband services at download speeds of 50 megabits per second or higher—this is 2011 data—but at that time only 0.3% of households subscribed to these speeds. So there's clearly a gap between the supply of very high-speed broadband networks and actual demand for these networks, the uptake.
Are Canadians making extensive use of these networks? We don't know, and that brings us to a question of data. How do we track our progress? We have some high-level metrics, we have some maps that provide an overview of basic coverage, but we don't really understand in great detail what people are doing online. We don't really understand their vigorousness levels. We don't fully understand the reasons that Canadians who are not currently online or are not regular users have chosen not to make use of these resources. While we have some information on availability, we need much more fine-grained data on upload and download speeds, on quality, on price, allowing us to think about affordability, the number of providers to look at, the choice that people have, and the uptake of various speeds.
I'll stop there.
Generally, I would describe it as being excellent, state of the art, leading the world in terms of speed, quality, capacity, and growth.
Just to give you a very specific example, last month at the CRTC hearing, when we were talking about a national code of conduct for wireless carriers and to help consumers across Canada, there were no discussions about the quality of the networks, the speed of networks, or dropped calls. All those things were secondary because they're taken for granted in Canada. That speaks to the quality of the infrastructure that we have from coast to coast. That's because in Canada carriers have deployed massive investments. When I'm talking carriers, I'm talking new carriers, old carriers, national carriers, regional carriers—they have all made massive investments to support wireless technology and mobile wireless technology from coast to coast, and we expect that to continue.
Another example of how things are shifting, and why I say it's excellent in Canada, is just a few weeks ago I was at the launch of the new BlackBerry Z10—
An hon. member: Hear, hear!
Mr. Bernard Lord: I thought you'd appreciate that, so that's why I mentioned it now.
During the launch, which lasted a couple of hours, they talked about all the capabilities of this device, but no one mentioned that this could actually make a phone call, because it was secondary. The fact that it makes a call is taken for granted. If you make a call from a wireless device in Canada, it's good quality, we rarely have dropped calls—it's excellent. It was all about the computing power and the mobile computer power, and how you can access high-speed broadband Internet wherever you are.
That's how quickly things are shifting in Canada. That's because of the investments that have been made and the fact that our networks are excellent. But the fact that they're excellent is not a reason to be satisfied and to simply sit on our laurels and think we've got it made. We know that to continue to satisfy the needs of Canadians and the expectations of Canadians to have the world-leading networks, the best devices, the best service on the best networks, we'll need to make more investments. That's why the issue of spectrum is so important to all of us.
And thank you to all the witnesses for coming today and the great discussion here.
Most of my comments will be aimed at Professor Middleton.
Thanks very much for taking the time to be with us today. I really enjoy your work, and I think we really need the kind of help you have to offer on our broadband and Internet in Canada.
You're saying we don't have a digital strategy. Well, I have a goal perhaps we can start with, and that is to increase the productivity of our largest cities, to make sure that our cities are competitive when businesses are looking around the world where they might locate, to make sure Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are attractive sites to locate business from the perspective of broadband and Internet.
I'm struck by your article, “An Exploration of User-Generated Wireless Broadband Infrastructures in Digital Cities”. You give us four criteria by which we might evaluate, things that companies might find important: usability, reliability, security, and affordability.
I'm wondering about two questions. The first is, when we're thinking maybe from a company's perspective, how do our cities stack up against other cities around the world, perhaps using your four criteria, all of them, or one or two of them? And how can the federal government help to make things better?
I'll turn it over to you and maybe prod as we go along.
The answer to how we stack up against the world isn't an easy one. I'm not aware of a good source of data to measure that. Akamai, which is the contribution distribution network, broadly speaking, produces the report each quarter on the state of the Internet. They used to look at cities, so they measured broadband speed in cities, and the last time they did that was 2011. They've stopped doing it because it's just too complicated, I think.
But at that time, of the top 100 cities with broadband speeds around the world, there were two Canadian cities on that list: Victoria was in 81st position, with average speeds of 7.5 megabits per second, and Oakville was in 97th. That's really the only hard data point we have from 2011.
More recently, their 2012 third-quarter data shows that 70% of Canadian connections are above 4 megabits per second, but we're not in the top 10 internationally for average or peak connection speeds. Much of this data is consumer data, but it's still measuring the ability to connect into businesses, and so on. It seems that we don't have really good data, but the data we have suggests that Canadian cities are not world leading in terms of speeds of broadband. If you look at some places that are, they're places like Chattanooga, in Tennessee, where the municipal utility has built out a gigabit-per-second broadband network there. What that has done is it's become a huge hub for regional development. Companies from across the U.S. are moving into Chattanooga because there's this broadband connectivity there.
The question becomes, how could we do something similar here? What would be needed? Clearly, there are opportunities to build particular spaces, so build industry, industrial parks, build networks, build regions...providing this high-speed symmetrical fibre connectivity, and drawing business into that.
To the extent that municipalities can help with planning, it's not so clear exactly how the federal government drives that at the municipal level, but, clearly, any initiative that it can do to help foster that would be good.
Can I jump in for a second?
I did notice from your article that you said a lot of municipal efforts to do this have failed, essentially, or they've stopped doing that. Is there something we can learn from those failures as to how we might rejig investment to again bring our cities to the same level as Chattanooga, or Seoul, or somewhere else?
For example, I have EA Sports in my riding—lots of uploads, lots of downloads. They have contractors all over the world. Connectivity is going to be a huge thing; it is a huge thing for them. I want to keep them in my riding, and this is essential, I think, to make sure we have this.
Again, we've discussed a lot about the market here, but you have looked at different models. Is there something that perhaps our municipalities could do that would work?
Well, one successful Canadian municipality, one of the ones we looked at years ago that is still managing to maintain good connectivity, is the City of Fredericton. Fredericton is interesting because the municipality owns that fibre ring, so they're able to take excess capacity on that. They're providing a whole lot of companies...but in taking excess capacity, they make that available to citizens. Because they own that fibre ring, they're able to decide where they're going to extend it to. It's a case of an alternative provider.
I think to the extent that the municipal governments or federal governments can help bring in some additional competition to make those services available, that's going to help.
In terms of what has worked elsewhere, I think it's that vision. In Chattanooga, as an example, it's very clear that the entire local government recognized the value of this connectivity as an economic development initiative. It wasn't just that we want faster broadband so that people can watch YouTube; it was, if we build this network, at this speed, in this community, business will move into this community.
I don't have an answer to this, but the question is, why aren't we seeing more of those types of networks being built out in Canadian communities? Certainly, we're seeing some evidence of that, but it's not across the board.
I'm very happy to speak to those issues.
The simple answer to both of those questions is yes. Those choices are available today in the Canadian marketplace. They may not be identical from carrier to carrier. That's why we have competition. Different carriers will offer different packages, different choices to consumers. But in Canada today you can get what is considered a traditional plan, a three-year plan, or you can get a month-to-month plan. You can get prepaid or postpaid. You can get one-year plans, two-year plans, or plans that have no timeline. It just depends on how quickly you pay down the subsidy on the device.
In fact, what we're advocating and what we propose to the CRTC is that Canadians should be able to leave a plan at any time they want, as long as they pay the subsidy on the device, the phone, if there was a subsidy on the device when they started.
That's a simple answer to say that things have changed dramatically in recent years in Canada. Some people still think the only way to get cellphone service is through a three-year contract. That is not the case at all. In fact, there are so many options out there in the marketplace that it could make your head spin. There are so many choices.
In terms of unlocking phones and having access to SIM cards, the answer is yes. Most carriers will offer that choice to unlock your phone. Some do it for free. Some will charge a fee. Again, it's an issue of competition. It depends on the service, but Canadians do have that choice. So if they go overseas or to another country, they can change the SIM card and put another SIM card in the device.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses.
Mr. Lord, on your comment that cellphones are not dropped, it certainly doesn't work in my area. Driving from my office to Charlottetown, I'll be dropped twice on all major networks. I've tried all three: Bell, Telus, and Rogers. I tried Xplornet on the Internet. There are a lot of areas in this country where we just do not have the service.
I will say, Mr. Chair, I'm glad the committee is looking at the service.
First, to Ms. Middleton, you said that Canada doesn't have a national strategy, and I think that's what we need to look at first. What's the government's responsibility in terms of moving forward? How do we stack up against the rest of the world in terms of that?
I really appreciate the question.
Currently, mobile wireless in Canada covers 99% of the population. It covers just under 20% of the territory. We live in a vast country with a sparse population that is highly concentrated along the southern part of the country. We all know that.
I have talked about dropped calls. There is a difference between having a dropped call where there is coverage and having dropped calls because you're moving into an area where there is no coverage. I'm not pretending that we cover 100% of the territory; that's not the case.
As has been stated here today, in places where there is a very low concentration or density of population, mobile wireless may not be the best solution. We don't pretend that we can cover 100% of the population in the same way that we cover downtown Toronto or downtown Ottawa or even downtown Moncton. Other technologies can step in here. They may not provide the same flexibility as mobile wireless, but they can provide the service of fixed wireless, as has been explained today.
That's why we don't pretend and are not advocating that there be just one solution to satisfy the needs of all Canadians. We know, however, that Canadians love the fact that they can be mobile and that they want to have access to high-speed Internet while they are mobile. We can provide that to 99% of the population currently.
I do, absolutely, and in fact there is competition and choice now.
And we don't pay the highest fees in the world. That is a myth that's being perpetuated by others.
In fact, when you look at how much Canadians pay versus what they get, we have one of the highest values in the world. When you look at how much Canadians pay versus our GDP, we are the second lowest in the G-8 and third lowest among OECD countries.
The fact is, Canadians consume a lot; we consume a lot of data, a lot of voice, and a lot of text. As we consume more, it's expected that we pay more. We also have among the best networks, and we also use the most sophisticated devices. That's very different from other countries. When you look at your monthly bill, if you have a monthly bill, in Canada a lot of it is paying for the device and not just for the service. If you compare that with the situation in other countries in which the device is not part of the bill, then you will see a discrepancy. But when you drill down into the numbers and look at them, we have very good value in Canada for consumers.
Part of that is because we do have a competitive marketplace. We have more than two dozen choices of carriers or resellers in Canada from whom you can buy service. One of the charts we showed today will illustrate that, if you look at the slide deck.
I don't want to take up all the time, but I'm happy to talk about this some more.
No, I appreciate it, and competition is the best solution I see.
Mr. Bernard Lord: Absolutely.
Hon. Ron Cannan: Before I go to another question, let me note that Mr. Easter talked about the FCM protocol. I served nine years on city council, so I'm glad to see that issue being discussed, because for a number of years it's been an ongoing issue.
You ran out of time when you started to talk about rural areas. Constituents, not only from my riding but from other parts of Canada, talk about rural areas covered, as you mentioned, and talk a lot about satellite. Some people don't like satellite because of lightning strikes and for various reasons, so they still have a dial-up connection.
Could you expand a little bit concerning the initiative for additional rural coverage?
We've talked today about the needs of rural Canadians. We've seen in the past governments use public funds for public good to deploy infrastructure. We do it on a regular basis currently in Canada, whether it's at the federal level or the provincial level. We do it for roads, we did it historically for electricity, we do it for water. That's part of essential infrastructure.
So if we decide in the 21st century that connectivity is essential to the fabric of the country, and that economic models will not support it, then that's the place for governments to step in.
I know that last time, in 2008, there was an auction, and it yielded $4.3 billion to the federal government over the span of ten years. That is money that could be used, and is being used, for whatever decision the government wants. It could include helping deploy infrastructure and support deployment in other parts of the country where it's not economically feasible.
Those are legitimate policy options that are open to any government to consider and then decide whether they want to do it this way or not. Some of that is being done now. The federal government did announce a $225 million fund to deploy broadband in rural communities.
Now, those are options, and that's why we think we can be part of that solution, as can others as well be part of the solution.
Thank you, Chair, and my thanks to the witnesses for being here today.
I want to use my example before I go on to present a question. I've had a BlackBerry—members of Parliament have had BlackBerrys for years. You find out how important this tool is. It's not just a phone—you can communicate, research, do it all. It's a great Canadian technology.
My wife had a flip phone. It quickly became more and more obsolete. All it can be used for is phoning. To try to text on a flip phone is extremely difficult. I told my wife I'd try to figure it out and show her how to do it. It is really hard compared with a gadget like this. I bought her a BlackBerry and traded in the flip phone. She's now able to text.
My guess is there are a lot of Canadians who are getting into the technology, which means that we have a need for additional capacity within the system. It's going to continue to grow exponentially. There are a number of us around this table who have a background in municipal government. I was on city council for 14 years. One of the challenges we had was people coming to a council meeting as we were considering a new tower. There was a lot of opposition whenever new towers were coming into the community.
To be able to make this happen and continue to grow capacity for this changing technology, from what I'm hearing, we need to have additional towers. That's one of my questions. Objections to towers include health issues and the devaluing of property. Mr. Easter is losing calls; maybe he needs some more towers or maybe he needs better technology to provide that service. I don't know what the issue is. I'm really happy that you have a protocol through the chamber that will allow you to take a serious look at this and provide accurate information.
So what would you say to a person who doesn't want an ugly tower in his community and believes it will devalue his home? What would you say to that?
There is a table that we'll provide to the committee.
I want to give credit to the officials in the government, and the government, because that work has started. I don't want to give the impression that we're starting with a blank page. That work has started, and it's essential.
My voice today is to lend support to accelerate that work. Let's not wait until the auction is over before we plan the next step. We already know we will need next steps.
I've heard today from Mr. Lenehan that we don't necessarily disagree on these things. As I like to say when people ask me about the position of the CWTA on spectrum auctions and the rules, well, some of our members like certain rules, other members like other rules, and we like all our members. That's your job, in the end.
What we agree on, and what all our members agree on, is that we need more spectrum and it should be auctioned off. How the auction is structured depends on the policy goals you want to meet.
Sure. Thank you. That's a great question.
I want to make sure we leave you guys with the right impression. We've made good progress, certainly, on broadband access in Canada, in our view.
We're here today more about looking forward and trying to get ahead of this. I think that's generally what we're all trying to do. I think Ms. Middleton hit it on the head when she talked about starting with what the problem is that we are trying to solve, because you can't necessarily solve the problem unless you've defined it properly.
Getting to the point, for us it comes back to what Canadians want to do in rural. That's the only thing we'll talk about, and we're focused on homes and businesses. For the foreseeable future, our view is for it to be faster, more affordable, and more robust, which is the volume component, because people in Canada have a great consumption of data, and that is excellent. We should continue to make supply available to meet that growing demand, because it's clearly what people want to do, both for personal consumer benefit as well as to meet the need for services of the government—health, education, and so on.
I think defining the problem is a great place to make sure we haven't missed anything. Otherwise we think, working closely with the government...we're zoned right in on the spectrum availability, keeping ahead of that, making it available, in our view, for rural broadband deployment—we'll let you guys worry about the urban piece—so that we give people faster, more affordable, more robust broadband to enable not only consumer but more mission-critical needs for businesses and government, which comes back to reliability and QoS, and so on. I think those have been covered to a large extent here today.
Thank you again, folks.
Mr. Lenehan, I think it's about slide 14 in your package. It says:
Without Rural Spectrum—No Rural Internet
Unless spectrum is made available for fixed wireless access, rural Canadians are condemned to mobile Internet only
Your slide, in my view, is actually quite shocking. In my view, that slide is all about economic development in rural Canada. I guess in as short of an analysis as you can, can you tell me how we get there?
I'd just back that up, from the minutes of this committee, with Michael Geist being quoted as saying:
If part of your economic strategy doesn't include a digital economy strategy, then I'd say you don't have an economic strategy.
I think that is bang on. The Government of Canada needs a national digital strategy as part of governing.
So how do we get there to ensure that rural Canadians have that availability?
Those are great points. First of all, when I speak of “rural”, the key point is economic development. Look at all the natural resources that reside in rural. It's such a critical component. So I agree with you that our digital strategy and our economic development are very aligned, at least with respect to rural broadband.
Secondly—and I want to make sure I'm very clear about this—we're pro the development of our mobile networks. Just keep in mind that when in rural—and that's what part of this presentation does—a lot of the mobile traffic is offloaded to fixed. In urban, that's fixed to a wire line. In rural, it's fixed to another wireless-related tower or satellite, which again shares the same form of spectrum, so you're sharing the same resource in rural that is different from urban, because most of your traffic is offloaded to wired.
I agree with you that economic development and our digital strategy are very aligned, and I look forward to the inclusion of rural broadband as part of that, because it taps into all of the development that's going on nationwide.
You can pick every province and territory, and we have such a growing development in every province and territory that is better developed if you are connected with more robust broadband. It's not just the people who are in those areas who need access to it, but the businesses that are taking advantage of all those natural resources are in fact requiring more and more robust broadband.
I'm not sure if that answers your question.