- SWIFT is seeking a review of the CRTC Broadband Fund eligibility criteria and requesting that modifications be made to increase access to funding for all underserved Canadians.
- SWIFT estimates that there are around 230,000 premises (residents and businesses) within its project region currently lacking access to the CRTC Universal Service Objective (USO) of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload.
- SWIFT estimates that around 100,000 of the 230,000 underserved premises in Southwestern Ontario are located in CRTC “partially served” areas and are not eligible for funding.
- CRTC’s approach to restricting eligibility of “partially served” areas reduces the overall quality of the Broadband Fund, leaving many gaps within the network that market forces are unlikely to address anytime soon.
Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology Inc. (SWIFT) has filed an application to appeal the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) restrictive eligibility criteria currently used to determine access to federal broadband funding.
SWIFT is seeking a review of the development of the Commission’s Broadband Fund issued by CRTC on September 27, 2018 and requesting that modifications be made to the exclusive use of the 25km hexagonal system used by Innovation, Science and Economic Canada (ISED) to map “served” and “underserved” areas as a base to determine CRTC funding eligible.
The Commission has classified “high-speed” Internet access as a “basic service” and has committed to providing Internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads as a Universal Service Objective (USO). Yet, the eligibility and assessment criteria used to evaluate applicants excludes “partially served” areas, a hexagon with at least one household that has access to 50/10 target speeds. “Partially served” areas are not eligible for funding.
SWIFT has been collaborating with various stakeholders, including service providers, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), and Rural and Regional Broadband (R2B2) initiative at the University of Guelph to develop multiple sources of data to provide a detailed map of broadband connectivity in its project region of Southwestern Ontario, Caledon and Niagara.
“Important advances have been made in broadband mapping using data-rich and partnership approaches,” says University of Guelph’s Dr. Helen Hambly (Project Lead for the Regional and Rural Broadband Project). “Our “big and better data” strategy aims to correct for potential biases and errors that are expected with any single source.”
SWIFT’s map highlights the federal funding gap by illustrating the large number of underserved businesses and households in its project region that are not eligible for funding based upon the Commission’s assessment.
SWIFT estimates that around 100,000 of the 230,000 underserved premises in Southwestern Ontario alone, are located in CRTC “partially served” areas and are not eligible for CRTC funding.
“The use of ISED’s mapping and data as the basis for eligibility for the CRTC Broadband Fund has led to a significant underestimation of the magnitude of the problem and will restrict the ability of underserved communities to access much-needed funds,” says SWIFT CEO, Geoff Hogan. “Southwest Ontario has almost a $3 Billion broadband deficit, we need to clearly identify the size of the problem and not mask it in 25km hexagons. The Commission’s approach is likely to have a large negative impact on the ability of communities with sub-par Internet quality.”
Rather than complement efforts by lower levels of government to counteract Canada’s growing rural-urban digital divide, the Commission’s exclusionary approach will leave many gaps within the network that market forces are unlikely to address anytime soon.
“Letting underserved communities provide other evidence such as standardized Internet measurements would enable the Commission to validate and to complement provider/ISED indicators of “available” speeds,” states Dr. Hambly. “This would assist with ensuring places with very poor Internet quality are not simply excluded due to data limitations.”
Recommendations made by SWIFT in the appeal to the CRTC to help ensure all underserved Canadians have access to broadband funding include:
- Redefine service area boundaries and allow areas that are lacking access to meet the Commission’s “basic service” 50/10 thresholds as eligible to apply for funding.
- Allow lower levels of government and underserved communities to provide other evidence such as standardized Internet measurements to demonstrate their needs and therefore eligibility to apply.
- Reconsider that in “partially served” areas market forces are not “likely” to improve connectivity anytime soon.
- At a minimum, allow underserved areas in “partially served” zones to be eligible to apply as part of larger projects to incentivize private sector participation.