Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to discuss our fall 2018 report on connectivity in rural and remote areas. Joining me at the table is Philippe Le Goff, the principal responsible for the audit.
This audit focused on whether Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, according to their respective roles and responsibilities, monitored the state of connectivity and developed and implemented a plan to meet the connectivity needs of Canadians in remote and rural areas.
Over the past 12 years, detailed examinations of the state of broadband access in Canada have included recommendations that the federal government lead the creation of a national broadband strategy. However, at the time we finished our audit, the government had still not agreed to take that step.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada indicated that it was reluctant to establish a strategy with an objective that could not be reached with the available funding. The department had continued to follow an approach that expanded broadband coverage to underserved parts of the country according to when funds were available.
This approach left people in rural and remote parts of the country with less access to important online services, such as education, banking, and health care, and without information about when they could expect to have better access.
On October 26, 2018, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development announced that the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers for innovation and economic development agreed to make broadband a priority and to develop a long-term strategy to improve access to high-speed Internet services for all Canadians.
Ministers committed to a goal of establishing universal access to Internet speeds of 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits per second upload.
Mr. Chair, with respect to the current state of connectivity in Canada, we found that the department relied on complete and accurate data to inform policy-making aimed at addressing the connectivity gap in rural and remote areas.
In 2016, the government launched its connect to innovate funding program to bring high-speed Internet to 300 rural and remote communities in Canada. We examined whether the department designed and managed this program to maximize the value for taxpayers. We found that the department did not implement the program in a way that ensured the maximum broadband expansion for the public money spent. The program did not include a way to mitigate the risk that government funds might displace private sector funds.
We also found that the department did not provide key information to potential applicants for funding under the program. As a result, some applicants had to invest more effort in preparing their proposals, and all applicants lacked full knowledge of the basis for selecting funding proposals. For example, there were a number of considerations for selecting projects, but the application guide did not specify the relative weight of each criterion used in the project selection process. Also, projects were less likely to be funded if they did not align with provincial and territorial priorities. However, these priorities were not made public. In our view, the department should have made the weights and priorities public.
Many Canadians in rural and remote areas had to rely on fixed wireless broadband solutions. We found that small Internet service providers did not have sufficient access to high-quality spectrum to support broadband deployment in rural and remote areas. For example, the department auctioned spectrum licences for geographic areas that were too large for smaller service providers to bid on. The secondary market for unused spectrum did not function well, partly because licensees had little business incentive to make unused spectrum available for subordinate licensing. In addition, the information on unused spectrum was not readily available to interested Internet providers.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have agreed with our six recommendations, and we understand that the department has prepared a detailed action plan.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks.
We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.