This page provides background about the issue, the CRTC, benefits of First Nations Community Networks, and our position on the Hearings.
We are an independent not-for-profit research consortium and a First Nation community located in the Northwest Territories. Our work focuses on innovative solutions to broadband infrastructure development with and in rural and remote First Nations communities. We have a breadth and depth of understanding of the challenges and issues related to service provision in remote communities.
We recognize the current lack of access to telecommunications and broadband services for consumers in 96 communities across Northern Canada. We also acknowledge that Northwestel’s proposed Modernization Plan offers one solution to help address this challenge. Finally, we recognize that Northwestel’s service territory presents unique challenges, given its large size, small and dispersed population, and expensive-to-service terrain.
- READ MORE about Northwestel’s Modernization Plan
Overview of the Issue
In TRP 2011-771, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (Commission) stated its concerns regarding Northwestel’s failure to render reliable telecommunications services of high quality.
This was evidenced by aging infrastructure and the unavailability of services in many rural and remote communities. These concerns are further reflected in differential service levels inside Northwestel’s serving area, seen for example between Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation.
Given these conditions, the Commission determined that additional regulatory oversight is needed, and suggested that local competition be introduced in Northwestel’s serving territory.
The Commission also stated that telecommunications provides residents of the North with economic development opportunities and public services.
To address these issues, the Commission is holding public hearings in summer 2013. These hearings are called: Review of Northwestel Inc.’s Regulatory Framework, Modernization Plan and related matters. More information is available at the Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2012-669.
Section 7 of the Telecommunications Act states several policy objectives associated with the regulation of telecommunications in Canada. Among other objectives, the Commission is mandated to facilitate the development of a telecommunications system that serves to:
a) “safeguard, enrich, and strengthen the social and economic fabric of Canada and its regions”;
b) “render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada”;
c) “enhance the efficiency and competitiveness…of Canadian telecommunications”;… and
h) “respond to the economic and social requirements of users of telecommunications services”.
In TRP 2011-291, the Commission established target speeds of 5 Mbps downstream / 1 Mbps upstream to be available to all Canadians by the end of 2015.
In CRTC Decision 2000-745, the Commission established the National Contribution Fund (NCF). All telecommunications service providers contribute to the NCF based on their total Canadian Telecommunications Service Revenues (less certain deductions).Telecom Decision CRTC 2005-59 determined that the NCF provides compensation to incumbent local exchange carriers for the provision of their residential primary exchange service (PES) in high-cost serving areas (HCSAs).
In TRP 2011-291 and 2011-711, the Commission confirmed that only Northwestel is eligible to receive the portion of the NCF set aside for HCSAs in Canada’s far north, given its regulatory obligation to serve all customers in those HCSA regions. In Telecom Decision 2012-669, the CRTC approved a total subsidy of $20.9M for Northwestel in 2012. Northwestel received this subsidy to provide residential PES in HCSAs ($10.8M), and to fund the ongoing requirements of the non-access portion of Northwestel’s approved Service Improvement Plan ($10.1M). As noted earlier, in TRP 2011-771, the Commission determined that Northwestel failed to provide adequate services to residents of its northern HCSAs (in particular those in “remote” communities).
Northwestel’s proposed Modernization Plan is an ambitious and comprehensive initiative. However, it is our opinion that it fails to leverage significant opportunities that may support the long-term economic and social development of affected rural and remote northern communities. Northwestel’s Plan focuses on a definition of “quality of service in the North” with regards to issues of speed and access, such as the availability of 3G/4G and high-speed Internet. We contend that while these issues are important, “quality of service” can also be framed to incorporate how local governments, public service providers, entrepreneurs, and residents develop and use available infrastructure. We believe this more holistic definition reflects the long-term potential of broadband infrastructure development for Northern rural and remote communities.
Modernization is an important and necessary component of a robust telecommunications system for the North. We also recognize these activities might increase the availability of access to services for users living in “remote” communities. However, it is our opinion that residents of Northern communities, including First Nations and Aboriginal peoples, are best positioned to state their own broadband development needs. Our research and professional experience demonstrates how First Nations community networks can be strategically developed in partnership with backhaul service providers to reflect the unique requirements of northern constituents. They can also generate economic development opportunities and provide broadband-enabled public services, as well as stimulate competition. In this context, we submit that a subsidy mechanism to support the development and ongoing sustainability of First Nations Community Networks might support the Commission’s policy objectives while enriching the next generation telecommunications system being developed to service Canada’s far north.
Benefits of First Nations Community Networks (FNCNs)
- support local employment by providing residents of communities with opportunities to work as administrators and technicians.
- contribute to economic development efforts to circulate revenues inside a community (such as between local customers and service providers).
- support QoS guarantees by providing on-site points of contact.
First Nations clearly state their goal to take control and ownership of their local loop infrastructure, as reflected in several resolutions passed by the Chiefs in Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Most recently, Resolution 53 (2011) supports the AFN’s First Nations e-Community Strategy and directly references the desire of member First Nations to engage in community ownership and management of local networks. Some Inuit organizations express similar goals. For example, in its presentation to the 2012 Nunavut ICT Summit, the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation stated the need for an increased role for Inuit organizations (specifically its for-profit subsidiaries) in commercial ventures in the territory. This was “to increase Inuit involvement in decision making, increase employment and economic development opportunities for Inuit, and to keep dollars spent in Nunavut in Nunavut”.
We submit that community networks can be strategically developed to generate economic development opportunities and provide broadband-enabled public services that resonate with the unique requirements of northern constituents.
Focus in Hearings – June 19-20, 2013
We are organizing a presentation to the Commission and interested parties in the Review of Northwestel Inc.’s Regulatory Framework, Modernization Plan, and related matters. We will be presenting in Whitehorse, Yukon on June 19-20, 2013. We hope to contribute testimony from several parties in this hearing. Our submission will include:
- Overview of issues raised in our submissions to date. Visit this page for details.
- Expert witness testimony on whether any modifications to the amount of subsidy or subsidy regime in the North are needed; and whether the Modernization Plan addresses the needs of northern residents.
- Testimony from residents of communities inside Northwestel’s service area. They will comment on their needs, including types of services, quality of service, affordability, and other matters. Click here if you are a resident and wish to contribute testimony.
- Testimony from organizations involved in providing services in northern communities. They will comment on the services they needed to promote local competition, and on the services they think could be offered to communities in Northwestel’s service area to promote competition. Click here if you are a member of an organization and wish to contribute testimony.