Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am here today to present on Industry Canada's work in regard to broadband infrastructure.
In the context of your review of infrastructure investment in Canada, I would like to provide an overview of the federal government's historical involvement in funding broadband infrastructure and an overview of the current broadband program, Connecting Canadians.
High-speed Internet access is essential infrastructure for today's digital economy. Along with other telecommunications services, Internet access contributes to the productivity and growth of the Canadian economy. High-speed Internet enables Canadians, businesses, and institutions to access information services and opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach.
Due to rapidly changing technologies and ever-increasing demand from consumers and businesses, telecommunications infrastructure requires continuous investment and innovation. The government's policy approach to telecom, including broadband Internet, has been to encourage competition and investment, protect consumers, and ensure access for all Canadians.
In Canada, private sector competition is driving investment in upgrades to broadband infrastructure. In particular, urban areas enjoy strong coverage, increasing speeds, and high-quality networks. However, rural and remote areas present a challenge that requires targeted government investment. Often, there simply isn't a business case for the private sector to build their networks in these areas, due to low population density and geographical challenges. The need for government funding is supported by a wide variety of studies and discussions with stakeholders.
My remarks today will focus specifically on rural and remote broadband. Broadband infrastructure encompasses the cables, towers, satellites and other equipment used to provide Internet access to households, businesses and institutions across Canada. As is common in many peer countries, the Canadian government has made targeted investments in rural broadband.
In 2000, the federal government created the national broadband task force to provide recommendations to address the digital divide and connect Canadians. Out of those recommendations, several programs were launched, including the broadband for rural and northern development pilot, or BRAND, and the national satellite initiative, which Industry Canada administered.
BRAND was a $105-million cost-matching program to help address the lack of broadband access in first nations, Inuit, Métis, northern, rural, and remote communities. BRAND initially provided financial support to community-level plans for demand aggregation and network deployment.
In 2009, Industry Canada conducted a comprehensive study to identify areas in Canada where broadband Internet was unavailable or not easily available. As part of Canada's 2009 economic action plan, $225 million was allocated over three years to extend broadband service to unserved and underserved households at speeds of at least 1.5 megabits per second. By the program's close in 2012, the government had invested in 84 projects to expand service to 218,000 previously unserved or underserved households. The delivery of broadband service to these communities has encouraged economic development, spurred innovation, and improved the quality of life in hundreds of communities across Canada.
Over the past decade, select broadband projects have also been supported by Infrastructure Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and regional development agencies and initiatives.
The federal government has also invested in CANARIE, an ultra-high speed optical backbone network that enables the transfer of large amounts of data generated by leading-edge research and big science from across Canada and around the world.
One million researchers, scientists and students at over 2000 Canadian institutions, including universities, colleges, research institutes, hospitals and government laboratories, have access to the CANARIE network.
Budget 2015 demonstrated Canada's continued support for CANARIE with renewed funding of $105 million over the next 5 years.
Economic action plan 2014 provided $36 million over 4 years to renew the Computers for Schools program, with an additional $2 million over 2 years announced in economic action plan 2015, to expand the program and include not-for-profit organizations that support low-income Canadians, new Canadians and other disadvantaged groups.
Computers for Schools helps young Canadians develop computer literacy skills and will give them better access to computers and communications technology equipment.
Significant progress has been made through a competitive marketplace driving private sector investment and through targeted government investment.
According to the CRTC “Communications Monitoring Report”, broadband coverage in Canada at basic speeds of 1.5 megabits per second was available to over 99% of households in 2012. Coverage at 5 megabits per second was available to 94% of households, which is in line with other peer countries. This is comparable to that of the United States and ahead of many European countries.
Coverage of Canadian next-generation networks is comparable to that of the United States and ahead of most European countries. Coverage at 30 megabits per second and in advanced LTE mobile networks fares very well internationally.
However, rural areas continue to lag in terms of coverage, available speeds, prices and service quality. Satellite-dependent communities in the north have the added challenge that their satellite capacity is on short-term leases, which prevents long-term planning.
Following the completion of the Broadband Canada program, Industry Canada and the CRTC worked together to identify gaps in service. Based on this work, the Connecting Canadians program was developed and announced in economic action plan 2014.
In April 2014, the Minister of Industry, the Honourable James Moore, released Digital Canada 150, a plan to advance Canada's efforts to being a global leader as a digital economy, setting out clear goals for what we can achieve by the time we celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2017. Digital Canada 150 is built on 5 pillars: connecting Canadians; protecting Canadians; economic opportunities; digital government; and Canadian content.
Under the connecting Canadians pillar, I would like to highlight the new connecting Canadians program, which provides $305 million over five years to extend and enhance access to high-speed broadband networks at a target speed of at least 5 megabits per second. Connecting Canadians sets an objective to expand affordable access to high-quality broadband services to an additional 280,000 households in rural and remote areas of Canada by providing one-time, non-repayable federal contributions to Internet service providers to expand or upgrade broadband infrastructure.
The $50 million northern component of connecting Canadians, we expect, will support connectivity at a target speed of 3 to 5 megabits per second for approximately 12,000 households in Nunavut and the Nunavik region of northern Quebec. These regions are among the most difficult to serve in Canada. Expensive satellites that cover the north are the only practical option to reach them.
The target speed of 5 Mbps was chosen based on a variety of factors, including deployment costs, the needs of end-users and upgrading service to a fairly broad number of households across Canada. It provides a meaningful improvement over the previous target of 1.5 Mbps.
These speeds will allow users to have better access to applications such as cloud computing, distance learning, e-health applications and high-definition video streaming. Partnerships are a key element of the Connecting Canadians program in order to build on past and previous investments, as well as to complement investments made by the provinces and territories.
Industry Canada undertook an extensive consultation process with Canadians, Internet service providers, provinces, and territories during the design and after the launch of the program. This included a call for Canadians and Internet service providers to provide feedback over the summer of 2014 to update national broadband coverage maps, which allowed us to identify underserved communities.
After updating the national coverage maps, a call for applications to connecting Canadians was launched on October 15, 2014. Submissions were due by January 12, 2015.
Industry Canada received over 300 applications from small and large Internet service providers from coast to coast. Then projects underwent a competitive national assessment process.
Applications were first assessed for essential criteria, and then those that met the essential criteria were further assessed on a number of comparative criteria, for example, the project's cost per household, the proposed number of households, sustainability and the scalability of the technology.
The purpose of the assessment was to identify projects that offer the greatest value for Canadians in terms of extending robust, affordable broadband service to rural and remote households without access at 5 Mbps.
The program is committed to working with partners to leverage funds. For example, British Columbia committed up to $10 million to cofund projects in their province's 2015 budget.