On March 23, 2023, the CRTC announced a public proceeding on a review of the Broadband Fund. Established in 2019, the objective of the Broadband Fund has been to close the gap in connectivity and ensure that underserved areas can reach the universal service objective. However, the March 27, 2023 report from the Auditor General of Canada found that a very low percentage of the funds were being distributed, and approval timelines were significantly longer than the estimated time frame. FMCC had the following recommendations:
- The governance structure of the Fund to include representatives from affected areas, including rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous regions of Canada, and addition of expertise in Northern and Indigenous contexts and requirements;
- The Commission develop an Indigenous Funding Stream that substantively involves Indigenous peoples in overall governance and administration;
- Specific indicators that include social and/or economic benefits should be developed through an inclusive and transparent process. These indicators can be used to monitor and assess the benefits of projects providing rural/remote broadband;
- Existing criteria should be adjusted to fit the specific contexts and requirements of Indigenous projects, and projects that provide economic and social benefits to Indigenous communities;
- The Commission should prioritize Indigenous and non-profit service providers for access to the Indigenous-specific funding stream. If a non-Indigenous service provider applies to this funding stream, they must include an Indigenous partner as a partner in the initiative;
- The CRTC should do more direct outreach to people living in rural/remote, Northern and Indigenous communities in proceedings focused on issues that affect them. We encourage the Commission to continue providing multiple avenues of participation and offering information in Indigenous languages;
- Operational funding should be provided only for Indigenous and non-profit providers;
- To identify low-income households, the CRTC should use other eligibility data such as through provincial and territorial Income Assistance Programs, similar to the approach used in the Lifeline Program and the more recent Affordable Connectivity Program in the U.S.. Operational subsidies to providers should be examined in the context of modifying or replacing the High Cost Fund, and considered in a separate proceeding;
- The Commission should consider subsidies for low-income consumers and coverage of specific operational costs for Indigenous and non-profit providers;
- For resiliency funding, the CRTC should prioritize remote communities that have fewer redundant connections, suffer longer wait times for technicians to arrive, and have less infrastructure capacity; and
- Requirements for meaningful engagement and consultation must be explicit and publicly posted on the Broadband Fund website. Applicants should follow a transparent set of guidelines and information requirements. They should include in-person meetings with leaders of affected communities (or videoconferences if necessary and feasible) and a specific agenda with opportunities for clarification on technical issues, access to land, or other issues, including those related to local economic development opportunities related to infrastructure and service delivery.
To read the full submission, see here.
See the CRTC call for comments here.
On September 19, 2023, FMCC filed a submission replying to comments made by other intervenors in the proceeding. See it here.