The CRTC has initiated the second phase of its review of basic telecommunication services (CRTC Notice of Consultation 2015-134 – see the news release here: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1027549 and Notice of Consultation here http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2015/2015-134.htm). This review is crucially important as the CRTC is listening to Canadians to determine what telecommunications services should be considered as basic (and therefore supported by subsidies) in the digital economy. In the last such review (2010-11) the CRTC decided that broadband should not be considered a basic telecommunication service (see Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-291 http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2011/2011-291.htm).
Public participation and input in this process is essential. Despite significant progress, there continues to exist a significant set of digital divides in Canada (both rural-urban and low vs. high income). For example, while urban Canadians have universal availability to wireline broadband at the lowest broadband speed (1.5-4.9 Mbps), only 87% of rural households have such broadband speeds available. At higher speeds this difference becomes considerably more pronounced. For speeds greater than 10 Mbps rural availability drops to 37% (see CRTC Communications Monitoring Report 2015, p. 211 (http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/PolicyMonitoring/2015/Cmr.pdf). There are also marked differences for internet use and income. For example, while 98.4% of Canadians in the highest income quintile make use of the internet at home, only 59.7% of Canadians from the lowest income quintile do so (the average for all quintiles is 83.9%) (see CRTC Communications Monitoring Report 2015, p. 22).
While it is unclear what the CRTC will decide, public input is necessary to ensure that the Commission makes a decision that is in the best interest of all Canadians. As library and information professionals, we should be acutely interested in ensuring that the decision addresses the continued digital divides in Canada.