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April 26, 2022
Claire Anderson, Regional Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you for your kind introduction. I’m delighted to join you on the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I recognize that I am an uninvited guest on these lands, so I am grateful to the Coast Salish people for allowing us to be here today.
I’ve looked forward to meeting with British Columbia Broadband Association members. I want to first emphasize the importance of the work that you do and have been doing, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. Telecommunications has never played a more pivotal role in our lives—particularly as many Canadians are working, learning and socializing from home.
I want to acknowledge the work you’ve done to deploy broadband to underserved communities—often rural or Indigenous communities. As someone who has lived on several reserves across this province, I know firsthand the lack of services that are available on remote reserves. Telecommunications is a way to provide opportunity where opportunities were sometimes limited.
For instance, most of the reserves I’ve lived or spent time on don’t have any doctors or hospitals in the community. Having access to broadband means that medical appointments can be held remotely, instead of people risking their lives by leaving their communities in the middle of a pandemic. It means that during lockdown, students are able to attend classes online, instead of getting left further behind.
So, as an Indigenous regulator, I truly want to thank you for embarking upon the work that you have been doing. I truly believe that the work that you do changes and saves lives.
The recent discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools underlines the significance of taking every opportunity to save lives, both directly and indirectly. And providing telecommunications services does exactly that.
I welcome this opportunity to bring you up to date on recent CRTC decisions and key files we’re currently analyzing that support this important work. I want to highlight our activities related to the Broadband Fund and broadband deployment, next-generation 9-1-1 and three-digit dialing, among others. Given that most of these are ongoing proceedings, I can only speak to the information that is publicly available.
Before I do, I first want to capitalize on Bob Allen’s invitation to conference attendees to help your Association be the “catalyst for growth in the BC communications industry.” I’ll share my personal perspective on this topic a little later.
First, I’d like to provide an update on where things stand with respect to the distribution of funds from the Broadband Fund.
I should start by clarifying that the CRTC’s initiative is separate and distinct from the excellent work being done by ISED’s Universal Broadband Fund, as well as the provinces and the territories and other organizations working to bolster connectivity. I applaud those groups for their valuable contributions and urge them to continue.
The CRTC’s Broadband Fund helps to fill a crucial niche to close the digital divide for Canadians living in rural and remote parts of Canada. This includes Indigenous peoples, whose communities are among the most underserved in the country. Only 48% of First Nations have access to a broadband service with 50 megabits per second for download (Mbps), 10 Mbps for upload and unlimited data.
The CRTC’s first call for applications under the Broadband Fund in 2019 targeted Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and satellite-dependent communities where the digital divide is greatest. Since then, the Fund has committed up to $206 million to improve Internet access service for 170 communities, of which 84 are Indigenous communities. This represents approximately 30,405 households in traditionally underserved areas of the country.
The latest investments, rolled out last month, include six access projects and one mobile project that received nearly $19.5 million in funding. These projects will benefit up to 1,255 households in 10 communities in British Columbia and Alberta. A total of 10 projects have received funding in BC, representing approximately $30 million in funding.
The Commission intends to conduct a review of the Broadband Fund in the coming months to ensure it is achieving its intended purpose, and there will be further calls for applications.
We are further looking into finding regulatory solutions for building facilities or interconnecting to existing facilities in our consultation regarding potential barriers to the deployment of broadband-capable networks in underserved areas in Canada.
In that consultation, we heard about the importance of access to support structures owned by Canadian carriers.
We recognize that untimely and costly access to poles has a negative impact on broadband deployment, particularly in underserved areas of Canada. The Commission launched a separate proceeding in October 2020 to look into this issue.
This proceeding to identify barriers to broadband deployment and the proceeding on support structure access are both ongoing.
In the meantime, we will soon be launching the second phase of our consultation related to telecommunications services with residents of remote communities in Northern Canada.
The information collected during the first phase of the consultation in late 2020 and early last year has helped us better understand the current challenges related to access to telecommunications services in the region as well as Northerners’ expectations.
They told us that everyone living in Canada should have affordable access to telecommunications services that are reliable and that allow the same functionalities of those available in the South, such as video conferencing.
This input has helped us to narrow the scope of issues the Commission should address in the next phase of our proceeding. This will also help ensure that high-quality services are available at affordable rates, now and for years to come.
Stay tuned for the details of the next phase of our consultation. We will be exploring innovative engagement tools to make it easier for the public to provide comments.
A couple of other proceedings I want to touch on include next-generation 911 or what we call NG9-1-1 for short. Telecommunications networks have greatly evolved over the years.
As your conference theme reinforces, telecommunications networks have evolved exponentially in recent years. Today, you can do much more than make a phone call. You can also send texts, videos and photos.
We want to ensure that emergency services benefit from these advancements to provide safer, faster and better-informed emergency responses. As a first step toward that, the CRTC has directed all phone and cellphone service providers to update their 9-1-1 networks from analog to digital. This will enable them to carry NG9-1-1 voice calls, as well as lay the foundation for innovative emergency communications services. At the same time, provincial, territorial and municipal governments will need to make sure their emergency call centres are ready for the new service.
British Columbia is already part of this nationwide transition, with Telus announcing the successful roll-out of the first phase of its next-generation 9-1-1 services in early March.
We directed all telecommunications providers to update their networks for NG9-1-1 voice services as of March 1st of this year. If you need more information about your obligations, you can find all the details on our website. Rest assured, we will keep working with service providers as you modernize your networks to ensure Canadians have access to a secure, reliable and resilient network for emergency calls.
Mental health and suicide prevention
The last proceeding I want to mention is the Commission’s study of a new three-digit number for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services. Many different organizations provide mental health support in Canada. The services they offer and the areas they serve vary greatly.
In a moment of crisis, it may be difficult to remember or find a 10-digit number. So, we’re looking into whether an easy to remember three-digit number – such as the 9-8-8 used in the United States – could be set up to direct the caller to the appropriate mental health crisis or suicide prevention service in their area.
We’ve launched a consultation into this issue last June, asking Canadians for their views. Because we recognize that, in addition to important mental health and public safety benefits, implementing a three-digit number in Canada would pose challenges.
As just one example, not all regions of the country have transitioned to 10-digit dialing yet, so a code such as 9-8-8 would not function in these areas. This must first be resolved if a three-digit number is to be introduced. We also need to consider whether it makes sense to deploy it across Canada at the same time or in a phased approach.
Another consideration is the challenges of sending text messages to this number, and how to overcome this. The ability to send a text message would be particularly useful to youth and Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons, as well as Canadians who are not in an environment that is conducive, or safe, for voice communications.
The importance of video messages of video messaging was underlined, as well, in a procedural request from the Deafness Advocacy Association Nova Scotia, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf, and the Ontario Association of the Deaf. They asked that Canadians be given an opportunity to present their comments in American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).
In response, the CRTC published key elements of the Notice of Consultation in ASL and LSQ, and extended the comment period to accept interventions and replies in ASL or LSQ in video format. We are now analyzing the public record.
Whatever the method of communication, a three-digit emergency number for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services would be extremely beneficial in Indigenous communities. They have the highest suicide rates in the country, particularly among youth and even children. And mental health services and supports are often lacking in remote regions.
New tools like 9-8-8 and the latest telecommunications technologies can help to bridge the gap faced in many Indigenous communities where the need is so great.
And that’s where people like you come in.
I mentioned earlier that I have some thoughts on how to all be “catalysts for growth in the BC communications industry.”
Speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the CRTC, I want to point out to an Alberta Court of Appeal decision that came out last year that indicated that projects which increase the likelihood of economic activity on a reserve ought to be encouraged. They are in the public interest. The Alberta Court of Appeal cited the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action as a source of authority. I encourage all Canadians to read the calls, and think about how the work we do can promote the calls.
Also, in the spirit of strengthening Canada’s commitment to reconciliation, last June, the federal government passed Bill C-15. The legislation affirms the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The UN Declaration is fundamentally about equality and non-discrimination. The right to Indigeneous self-determination and self-government. And the right to prosperity because Indigenous rights include economic rights.
The law now requires all federal government relations with Indigenous peoples to be based on achieving reconciliation. That means protecting and promoting Indigenous peoples’ inherent rights to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
The legislation makes clear that fulfilment of these rights is the foundation of stronger relationships between non-Indigenous Canadians and First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples. It is only through the recognition of Indigenous rights, respect, co-operation and partnership that we can achieve reconciliation.
So, what exactly does reconciliation mean? In its broadest sense, reconciliation means coming together and working together to forge a different and better future. A future that expands the circle of opportunity so Indigenous peoples enjoy economic parity with others in Canadian society. A future in which Indigenous peoples and businesses become full partners in growing diverse, prosperous and sustainable economies. This will lead to a higher quality of life not only for Indigenous peoples but, ultimately, all Canadians.
How can we make reconciliation a reality? In practical terms, it means governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations enabling and unleashing a national Indigenous economic agenda projected by the Indigenomics Institute to grow to $100 billion.
Those numbers aren’t pie in the sky. A TD Economics special report released back in 2011 valued the Indigenous economy then at $32 billion. The National Indigenous Economic Development Board estimates that engaging Indigenous people in the economy at the same rate as non-Indigenous Canadians could boost Canada’s GDP by 1.5% and create almost $28 billion in annual economic growth.
Good for business
This is good news not only for Indigenous peoples but for all Canadians, especially those in the business community. Reconciliation opens doors to productive and profitable new relationships that will yield long-term dividends in both the economic and societal sense.
Leaders in your industry are starting to recognize this reality. Telus is an example. The company’s Reconciliation Commitment announced last fall demonstrates the power of business and Indigenous partnerships to provide the connectivity, tools and resources that, quite literally, empower Indigenous communities to advance their social, economic, cultural and governance goals.
Guided by Indigenous voices and Indigenous-led frameworks of Reconciliation, the company developed its Reconciliation Commitment and initial 5-year Reconciliation Action Plan. The goal is to support the success of Indigenous peoples and communities in the ways they want to be supported.
The plan recognizes that corporate Canada has an important part to play in promoting reconciliation and helping to bridge the socio-economic gap that has marginalized Indigenous communities and peoples for far too long.
These developments respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for action #92. It calls on Canada’s corporate sector to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms and standards.
The CRTC also urges the private sector to help ensure that Indigenous peoples have equitable access to health, educational and employment opportunities. All things that depend on access to broadband – the necessity of which has only been reinforced during the pandemic.
The Broadband Fund has supported several Indigenous projects in Western Canada. For instance, the Commission awarded roughly $30 million for eight projects led by the Arrow Technology Group.
A First Nations-owned company, Arrow is the primary Internet service provider for over 40 First Nations and Métis communities in Alberta. It uses fixed wireless and fibre optic technologies to provide last-mile residential and business Internet services to over 4,000 Indigenous homes and 250 businesses. It has over 300 km of fibre optic infrastructure that provides Internet service to schools, health centres, administration offices, and other high-usage locations.
Broadband Communication North, or BCN, is another Indigenous organization benefitting from the Broadband Fund. BCN is a not-for-profit entity made up of representatives from tribal councils, territorial political organizations and independent First Nation communities in Manitoba.
The BCN network is one of the largest First Nations community networks in Canada, spanning over 1,000 km. It facilitates equitable high-speed broadband access to over 50 rural, northern and remote communities across the province to provide telehealth, education, justice and governance services.
BCN has received $5.8 million dollars under the Broadband Fund to increase satellite transport capacity to areas in northern Manitoba that do not have adequate access to broadband Internet services.
These examples illustrate the tremendous possibilities for telecommunications service providers in every province and territory. Because hundreds of First Nations and other Indigenous communities urgently require your services.
Despite the inevitable challenges, the latest technologies hold tremendous promise in bringing down barriers to communications and advancing economic growth and social development for all Canadians.
So, what can you do? To deviate slightly from your conference theme – “Changing Times-Changing Networks” – and to borrow a famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi, business leaders like you can “be the change.”
By that, I mean you can explore and, ideally, pursue co-ownership or co-management arrangements with Indigenous communities that expand broadband reach into underserved areas throughout the province. Aside from increased profitability, you can demonstrate not only what is possible but inevitable when Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners work together to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive society.
I would encourage you to look at the recommendations issued by the Indigenous Connectivity Summit to discover how best to do that. The Summit is hosted each year by the Internet Society, a not-for-profit group that works with communities to find and implement sustainable solutions that meet their unique connectivity needs.
I am convinced there is tremendous potential for businesses to tap into the economic, social and cultural benefits that will be generated when Indigenous peoples have access to the tools they need to succeed in the Internet age.
Equipping Canadians with diverse needs requires that both regulators and service providers continually evolve, doing things differently and doing different things – what your discussions at this conference are all about.
For the CRTC, doing things differently includes ensuring that we are receiving a greater diversity of perspectives in our public proceedings. We need to make sure that Indigenous peoples and racialized communities, among others, understand how they can participate and the importance of sharing their views, and feel like they will be heard by the Commission.
Ultimately, we all have a part to play.
The investments and new initiatives I’ve outlined this morning – coupled with the progressive measures being taken by the telecom industry – are helping to make sure that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system that promotes innovation and enriches their lives. That’s the CRTC’s mandate and something today’s meeting makes clear is an objective we collectively share.
Given the excellent presentations I’ve witnessed this morning, I have full confidence that your sector will continue to evolve and seize the opportunities to better serve all Canadians in communities large and small, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.
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