Canada's telecommunications watchdog has ordered Internet service providers to offer an unlimited data plan for home Internet access, and to issue easy-to-understand bills.
The new rules are part of an overhaul of the country's Internet service regulations that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcedWednesday. The CRTC also declared broadband internet access a basic service across the country, just like current landline telephone service.
The CRTC also significantly increased target speeds for broadband Internet, to 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, 10 times the existing speed targets.
CRTC chairperson Jean-Pierre Blais addresses the Canadian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Currently, about 82 per cent of households and businesses receive that level of service. The CRTC wants that increased to 90 per cent by 2021 and to 100 per cent within 10 to 15 years.
ISPs will also be required to offer unlimited data options for fixed broadband services.
As well, the regulator says mobile wireless service should be made available to all households and businesses throughout Canada, as well as along all major Canadian roads.
"Today, we won it all!"
— Consumer activist Josh Tabish, OpenMedia
"Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,'' said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.
"The availability of broadband internet, however, is an issue that can't be solved by the CRTC alone.''
Consumer advocates appeared thrilled by the decision.
“Canadians asked for universal Internet access, support for rural communities, world-class speeds, unlimited data options, and minimum guarantees for the quality of their Internet. And today, we won it all!” Josh Tabish, campaigns director for OpenMedia, said in a statement.
“With this ruling, the CRTC has finally listened to Canadians and agreed that residential and mobile Internet is a basic service required for modern life, as important as the telephone.”
An expensive road ahead
The CRTC acknowledged that ensuring everyone in the country has broadband service will cost billions of dollars.
As part of the decision announced Wednesday, telecom firms will have access to a $750-million industry-sponsored fund over the next five years to invest in broadband infrastructure.
The first $100 million of that, to be spent within the next two years, will come from a fund that currently subsidizes telephone services in isolated regions.
CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais speaks at the The Canadian Club of Toronto in Toronto on Wednesday, February 17, 2016. (Photo: The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
In order to access the fund, telecom companies will have to guarantee a set price for service.
However, unlike the recent CRTC decision to cap the cost of basic TV services at $25 per month, the regulator isn't proposing a cap on what ISPs can charge customers for basic broadband internet.
The decision comes on the heels of an announcement last week by the federal government of a $500-million fund to build high-speed internet infrastructure in remote and rural communities.
But Blais said industry players and all levels of government will have to take part in filling the service gaps that exist across the country, which affect about two million people.
The CRTC also ruled Wednesday that, within the next six months, ISPs must provide customers with contracts that spell out: the services being provided, usage limits, minimum monthly charges and the full cost of data overage charges.
There were roughly 12 million residential internet service subscribers in Canada in 2015, up 3.3 per cent from the previous year, along with 30 million wireless subscribers.
— The Canadian Press, with files from The Huffington Post Canada