Final Submission : Intervenor 252

Document Name: 2015-134.223952.2613410.Final Submission (1k0$q01!).html

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Final Submission : Intervenor 252

Document Name: 2015-134.223952.2613409.Final Submission (1k0$p01!).pdf
25 May 2016
**** May-Cuconato
Secretary General
RE: Final submission

Regarding the Consultation on Review of basic telecommunications services:

Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2015-134, 9 **** 2015; CRTC 2015-134-1, 3 **** 2015; CRTC 2015-134-2, 22 December 2015; CRTC-134-3, 14 January 2016; CRTC 2015-134-4, 9 **** 2016; CRTC 2015-134-5, 28 **** 2016.


Dr. **** Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Digital Communication, Department of Communication, Media and Film, University of Calgary, ******@***.com,


1. In my hearing presentation and previous two submission documents, I reviewed recent academic research on how basic telecommunications services should be defined and regulated by the Commission. In particular, I focused on the notion of persisting digital divides in Canada that become increasingly apparent when a broader version of basic service – beyond the narrow “digital economy” framing – is applied. Accordingly, mere access to digital connectivity has been proven insufficient to meet the broader policy objectives of universal connectivity.

2. In this final submission, I wish to restate this argument in relation to the Chair’s statement made during the hearing on 18 ****, which served to re-orient the proceedings toward developing a national broadband strategy for Canada.

Digital divides

3. As the Chair noted in his statement, broadband as a basic or essential service is a “self-evident truth” that emerged within the first week of the hearing. Fibre, satellite, and other delivery mechanisms, comprising the physical infrastructure on the supply side, have been the focus of much of the proceeding.

4. But as noted by the chair, some of the most compelling and “particularly striking” stories told during the hearing came from the demand side, from the people attempting to connect via broadband internet. In line with the program of research I presented in my initial submission to this proceeding,1 these people might be seen as trying to negotiate a dual digital divide.

5. A dual digital divide captures the diversity of reasons why Canadians remain unserved or underserved by our digital infrastructure. Some may be non-users by circumstance, where their communities lack the basic infrastructure needed to connect.

Others may be non-users by choice, where a variety of reasons, from prohibitive costs to lack of interest in connecting, have prevented broadband internet adoption. In this way, focus on the demand side shows how supply-side considerations could also be broadened beyond specific delivery mechanisms for broadband connectivity, to consider the whole ecology of the backbone, last mile connection, ISPs, and devices that combine to produce what users experience as connectivity.

1 **** Shepherd (2015), CRTC Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-134, Review of basic telecommunications services, 14 July. Intervention #271.

6. Given the diversity inherent in Canadian users and non-users, it is imperative for the CRTC to support further research on the gaps that remain in digital connectivity. This research should focus on a broad swath of Canadians, while avoiding the tendency to construct a fictitious “average Canadian” who doesn’t end up telling us much about the nuances of the country’s connectivity patterns. Instead, particular attention should be paid to the “outliers,” those who are least well served.

7. As indicated during a number of presentations at the hearing,2 residents of Northern and remote communities, many of them Indigenous Canadians, experience insufficient access to affordable broadband due in part to unreliable federal funding mechanisms.

But there are also other regions of Canada that are less obviously among the least connected, such as Prévost, Québec.3 Beyond geographic areas, various groups of Canadians with distinct needs – such as seniors or those with accessibility concerns – also deserve special attention in further research. More comprehensive, systematic research on the dual digital divide will help to answer why broadband internet adoption may be flagging for reasons more diverse than simply access to physical infrastructure.

8. In this way, research on barriers to connectivity considers non-users in more nuanced ways as citizens and creators, not only as potential customers or even small businesses. These narrow economic framings reflect the digital economy notion of Canadians as primarily consumers, or at best, business owners – essentially as engines of economic growth. The Chair made an important point in this regard during his statement, which asserted that insufficient connectivity leads to larger problems of “citizens being disenfranchised” and the further entrenchment of social as well as economic vulnerabilities, both within Canada and in comparison to the rest of the world.

Support for further research

9. There are a number of ways in which the CRTC could help to support the kind of research that is needed to understand the complex picture of digital divides in Canada. Encouraging co-operation among federal agencies is a first step toward being able 2 For example, see the submissions and hearing presentations of the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, First Mile Connectivity Consortium, Kativik Regional Government, among others.

3 **** Germain (2015), CRTC Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-134, Review of basic telecommunications services, 14 July. Intervention #486.

to conduct the kind of large-scale quantitative and qualitative research that could help to inform a national digital strategy.

10. On the quantitative side, the Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS),4 discontinued in 2012, could be reinstated by Statistics Canada and further refined with input from the CRTC. More detailed regional data, for example, would help to target underserved areas. In this way, the CIUS could also be used as part of the CRTC’s policy monitoring goals.5

11. On the qualitative side, the CRTC could help to support existing programs of research by advocacy organizations, community groups, and university researchers on how diverse populations of Canadians are negotiating digital connectivity. The 2016 EKOS report represents a step in this direction, looking as issues of cost and capacity as reasons for Canadians’ limited use of broadband,6 but it exists as a one-off study. Researchers across the country are engaged in more long-term, detailed studies that could benefit from various kinds of support, either directly from the CRTC or through federal funding bodies such as the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

12. If broadband is evidently a basic service, the first step to understanding how it can be better deployed is to devote some federal resources to conducting more comprehensive, up-to-date research on the people and groups on the “wrong sides” of various kinds of digital divides.

Digital literacy

13. The other benefit of increased support for research is the development of better metrics to understand the impact of policy decisions. As noted by the chair, decisions such as the encouragement of public-private incentives can sometimes result in “unexpected consequences.” It would be beneficial to develop ways of accounting for and monitoring such consequences in order to understand the specific contours of the local contexts in which policy directives get enacted.

4 Statistics Canada, The Canadian Internet Use Survey: 5 **** Landry and Anik **** (2014), “The Evolution of Digital Divides in Canada,” 2014 TPRC Conference Paper, 15 ****: 6 EKOS Research Associates Inc. (2016), Let’s Talk Broadband Findings Report, 18 ****: 14. One specific area in which such monitoring would be immediately beneficial for improving digital connectivity would be around the literacy and skills needed to effectively access broadband internet.

Digital literacy was raised a few times during the hearing, as in the Chair’s statement that access to connectivity hinges on, among other concerns, “issues of digital literacy and the capacity to make informed choices in a complex digital marketplace for the uninformed, the ill-informed, or the folks who are simply overwhelmed.”

15. The CRTC’s role in provisioning better information for Canadians about what they can expect from their ISPs, of how to understand the often esoteric terminology used in discussions of digital infrastructure, could be to provide “citizen’s guides” as they have done for policy participation. Moreover, as in the Wireless Code consultation, the CRTC could mandate that ISPs make clearer information on their broadband packages available to consumers.

On the public side, partnerships with provincial and territorial governments might mean supporting a more robust program of digital literacy education in the country’s schools. Finally, many advocacy groups engaged in digital literacy, such as Media Smarts,7 are already doing the work of producing research-based curriculum. Such groups could be supported as part of providing targeted funding for particularly vulnerable or underserved communities.

A national digital strategy

16. As was made clear during the hearing, a number of challenges remain in ensuring that all Canadians can benefit from access to the basic service of broadband internet. The way forward suggested by the Chair’s statement is nothing less than the articulation of a comprehensive national digital strategy that represents a commitment on the part of the federal government, hinging on co-operation between various government agencies.

17. The current fabric of a digital strategy is somewhat threadbare, comprising a combination of the legacy Digital Canada 150 document (what the Chair noted is little more than a “brochure”) and the new regime’s pledge of $500 million (a relatively small amount)8 for broadband infrastructure in the 2016 budget.

7 See

8 ****-François **** for Vaxination Informatique (2016). CRTC Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-134, Review of basic telecommunications services, 27 **** hearing presentation.

18. The key to creating a more effective digital strategy lies not only in the concerted collaborative efforts of various government agencies, but also in not attempting to reinvent the wheel. In 2010, Industry Canada conducted extensive consultation as part of the development of Digital Canada 150, which is still available on the public record,9 and still contains a number of important directives even though these may not have deeply informed the eventual plan. These consultation documents could be cross-referenced with the more recent accounts presented in the current 2015-134 consultation to review basic telecommunications services. These two consultations would likely provide more than enough basis upon which to devise a draft strategy that could be made open for public review.

19. A strategy in itself is necessary but not sufficient for the most effective use of public funds to improve digital infrastructure.

Consistent research and participatory review needs to be part of the roll-out of any strategy to ensure that it is meeting Canadians’ needs in a context of rapidly changing communications technology.

20. Participatory review means that Canadians can have a say in the development of their infrastructure. During the hearing, this was shown to be of particular importance when considering Northern and rural Indigenous communities, who suffer from a long history of having such decisions wrested from their hands, denying their distinct traditions and priorities.10

21. Moreover, for all Canadians, having a voice in the development of digital infrastructure is crucial to break the cycle of inequalities in access that further entrenches digital divides. If those Canadians who are most affected by the lack of sufficient and affordable connectivity continue to be silenced – by something as simple as not having the basic resources to participate in policy consultations through the online portal or through Skype – then the language of “average Canadians” will continue to obscure asymmetrical patterns of adoption.

22. Canadians across the country have participated in the hearing through various channels, demonstrating how much further policy strategies need to go to account for continuing inequalities in digital connectivity. In light of these inequalities, the development of a national digital strategy must think beyond the “digital economy” model of businesses and consumers to uncover how 9 See the archived submission documents at 10 Rob **** for the First Mile Connectivity Consortium (2016), CRTC Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-134, Review of basic telecommunications services, 11 **** hearing presentation.

people need broadband internet for basic communication, sharing cultural expression, diverse forms of learning and training, accessing essential government services, and participating in governance itself.

23. In order to do provide the kind of sustainable, long-term funding to support these goals, a national digital strategy demands cooperation among federal agencies such as the CRTC, Industry Canada, Canadian Heritage, Statistics Canada, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, along with provincial and territorial governments. Such a large-scale cooperation is the first step toward understanding digital connectivity beyond delivery mechanisms to account for an ecology of the physical, institutional, and social components of digital infrastructure.

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