Stronger Internet needs to come with stronger policies

The internet should be as free as the wilderness.

Going home for the holidays is always a welcome escape from school and the everyday hustle and bustle of life. However, ‘back home’ for me is the boonies, the sticks, the country. While the slower pace is nice, I always get a little more slow than I bargain for. Slow Internet, that is.

Sometimes, it’s slow enough to be deemed unusable. The idea of Internet in the bush is more of a symbol or an idea, a technological feat to strive for, than an actual service. With the United Nations declaring the Internet a basic human right in today’s technology-minded world, it’s astonishing that some rural areas still don’t even have basic access.

I’m not just a millennial with a socially acceptable addiction to being connected: the Internet is essential and crucial to functioning in our current society. So, it’s about time the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decided to treat broadband Internet access as a “basic telecommunications service,” which means it’s finally time for them to give us in the countryside all the Internet.

They report that they hope to reduce the 18% of Canadian homes without adequate Internet to 10% in the next five years, and eradicate it entirely within the next 10 or 15. They’re also requiring service providers to put money into a fund — projected to grow to about $750 million worth — to facilitate these changes.

This may translate to increased prices on services to compensate. With no regulation on rates accompanying the new mandate, consumers are in a tight spot: if the CRTC makes service providers pay more money, those providers will take it straight from our pockets, and without proper policies in place, there’s no telling whether or not we’re going to be charged fairly.

The overall goal is to be able to offer high-speed Internet services to rural areas, with only the hope that they will be affordable. This isn’t good enough. This doesn’t equate to providing adequate Internet to all citizens, not when that access might itself be unfairly inaccessible for financial reasons. This lack of foresight demonstrates a real failure to provide the fundamental human right. What, exactly, is the CRTC doing?

The CRTC has come under fire for being stuck in the past and an obsolete regulator, but in spite of those flaws, it’s still the only credible Canadian regulator which is separate from government. While policing the Internet has always been frowned upon, financial regulation done in the interest of providing it for everyone at an affordable price would be in the best interests of Canadians.

The Internet has become key to meeting our most basic human needs. Newspaper classifieds have gone the way of the dodo. Finding a job, finding a place to live, and, not to mention, socializing is all done via a broadband connection. Even inmates have the right to access the web. Providing Internet service to all at a respectable speed is imperative, but not the final goal — it needs to be at a reasonable price, and we need to do more to ensure that.

Canada is ranked only 33rd in the world for Internet speed. If the CRTC is going to be relevant in our expanding technological society, it needs to work harder to protect the ‘public interest,’ even if the regulations and policies necessary to truly accomplish that are at the expense of the companies which provide Internet services.

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