Tuesday 22 July 2014

Federal Connecting Canadians Program

The Federal government has released details about its latest attempt to increase broadband (high-speed Internet) coverage in rural and remote of Canada.  

Industry Canada calls the program Connecting Canadians - Digital Canada 150 (CCDC150) The 150 refers to the sesquicentennial in 2017 of the Canadian Confederation.  

The overall program website touts a number of recent and ongoing programs but this blog entry will only comment on the broadband (high-speed Internet) aspects of the program. In addition, I based these comments on an initial review of the site and I am sure additional details will become available over the coming days and weeks.

It appears the CCDC150 signals a change of policy from previous federal funding programs. In the CCDC150 approach, the federal government will deal directly with private sector Internet Service Providers (ISP). In the past, the government has dealt through "champion" intermediaries such as municipalities, not-for-profit (NFP) organizations, and community based networks (CBN) or innovations centres. For the most part, they tried to stay at arms length from the private sector ISPs. There are separate sections on the website for "Canadian and Communities" and "ISPs".

Another change from previous programs is there is no direct tie-in to provincial programs.  NOHFC still has a number of program that have a technology theme and it might be possible for some of he conventional champions to work with the  private sector ISPs which could result in some form of stacked funding - provincial on top of federal - as seen in the past.

The heart of the CCDC150 program is $305 million of federal funding. I find the wording on the  how and when they will spend the funds a bit confusing so I will quote from the website:-

  "From the launch of Connecting Canadians in summer 2014 until 2017, the Government of Canada will invest up to $305 million over five years to extend high-speed Internet service to 280,000 households in rural and remote regions of the country that currently have slower or no Internet access."[1]

The program defines broadband (high-speed Internet) as 5Mbps (assumed to be download speed). When the program is completed, "98% of Canadian households will have access to at least 5 Mbps."

The program does not place any restrictions on the technologies that the ISPs can or cannot use.  The ISPs are free to propose terrestrial (cable or copper) wireless (mobile or fixed), satellite or any combination there of.

The website states CCDC150 has two major geographical areas called components; "a rural component that will expand high-speed Internet service to rural and remote areas across Canada and a northern component that will extend and augment capacity in northern communities in Nunavut and the Nunavik region of Quebec."

There are other details, many of which are positive but in my opinion, there are a number of omissions in the public documentation to date.

Perhaps the most glaring is the complete lack of reference to any prices or monthly costs to the end user. We now have enough experience with mobile wireless broadband (high-speed Internet) data hubs to know that the monthly fees are close to unaffordable to  an average rural family.

There is also no mention of how, when, and by whom the 5 Mbps is measured and confirmed. In addition will the ISPs have to provide a consistent 5 mbps or better speed regardless of the number of users on-line at the same time. Again, we have enough experience with wireless Internet (Mobile, fixed and satellite) to know that network congestion makes the systems close to unusable at peak hours i.e. 4:00 PM to midnight.

I will be returning to this subject matter over the coming days.

[1] $305 million works out to $1080.00 per household.