Last week’s news that Northwestel would offer more data to residential customers for the same price starting in July went down smooth.
But a line in the news release quoting company president Curtis Shaw that pointed out it was the regulatory approval granted by the almighty Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that made the improvement possible felt more like chewing tinfoil.
Northwestel acts as steward for the internet infrastructure in the North, maintaining the essential service on behalf of the CRTC for a fee. Paul Gillard, the company’s vice president of business markets, presented the details of a plan to run a $25-million fibre optic line under Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife city council last October. He explained the purpose was to create redundancy, which increases the system’s resilience to outages like the two that occurred when the line was deliberately cut outside of Behchoko last summer.
He said Northwestel sent an unlimited broadband proposal to the CRTC days earlier.
Well, a few months and an unprecedented global pandemic and economic and social shutdown later, we’re all still waiting for unlimited internet, which we should all start referring to as normal internet because that’s what it is for the vast majority of Canadians.
More than that, the critical role information technology has played in providing education, in disseminating critical information like public health orders, in helping people stay connected to each other and endure the challenges of being shut in, of enabling some forms of commerce to continue and government to function, has played a starring role for months now. There can be no argument that reasonable and affordable access to reliable internet is a basic human right and an essential service in today’s world.
All this time residents have been burning through streaming services, watching podcasts and taking part in virtual meetings must have been putting a never-before-seen strain on the system. No servers imploded. No wires self-immolated. We’re all still here, so consider it permanently debunked this patronizing argument that access is throttled because allowing Northerners to use the internet how they want will break it.
The CRTC needs to act less like the muscle in a racketeering ring and more like a consumer advocate. Internet caps are so 2019. The regulatory regime must live up to its responsibility to ensure all Canadians have access to affordable internet service and abolish this second tier of digital citizenry for Northerners now.