Toronto Committee Blocks Affordable High Speed Internet

Affordable high speed Internet hit another roadblock as a Toronto committee blocked the initiative.

Internet and cellular services continue to remain stubbornly high in Canada. Famously, a ReWheel study has shown that cell service is so expensive, it makes the US seem like a bargain by comparison – an accomplishment given how bad the US has it.

The push for affordable high speed Internet and better cell phone service isn’t lost on politicians. In election after election, political parties promise that this government will be different and that this issue would actually be tackled. Despite the growing evidence that tackling this issue would result in a net benefit to Canada in many aspects (including economically), it always looks like these big promises always ends up getting shelved once the votes are tallied.

Indeed, the Canadian regulator, the CRTC, does share a lot of the blame on why affordable high speed Internet still isn’t a thing to this day in Canada. After all, this is the regulator that approves of monopolies at the drop of a hat as well as make decisions that raise rates along the way. Why would the CRTC act against the interests of Canada? It can be best summarized in a photo from last year where Chairman, Ian Scott, was busted having a beer with a Bell CEO. The cozy relationship between the largest telecom companies and the regulator is very well known, but the photo pretty much captures this relationship very spectacularly.

Of course, it takes more than a regulator who is the poster child for regulatory capture in Canada. Last month, we covered how the Canadian cabinet refused to intervene in the MVNO decision, fully backing the CRTC decision that would keep competition out of the cellular industry. It takes a lobbied government to back a bad regulator in order to maintain the monopolies that exist today in Canada.

So, while the federal government can help block competition and keep prices high in the sector, there is another method of lowering rates in Canada – at the municipal level. A big way is to bring in municipal broadband to reduce prices in a specific city. It’s not a necessary federal level way, but it is a start. These debates have been going on in the US for some time with multiple attempts being made by big telecom companies to block such efforts. A good example dates back to 2009 when telecom giants attempted to block Greenlight in North Carolina.

The concept of municipal broadband is quite simple: the city government starts up their own broadband company to bring in Internet access for all citizens. The city gets the profits from subscribers so they are free to disperse those funds to either further the services for the ISP or disperse the cash to other projects to help build up the city further. The city in question gets a new influx in cash and citizens can finally enjoy affordable high speed Internet. Everyone wins here. Of course, ISPs hate competition and will do everything to ensure municipal broadband never happens. They want that gravy train to never run out and they are willing to do everything they can to make sure nothing changes.

In Canada, there was an attempt to bring in affordable high speed Internet in the form of ConnectTO. The idea of ConnectTO is that this municipal ISP would bring high speed Internet for residents on lower income. Obviously, ISPs were not amused and did what they could to kill the project. After all, the last thing they want is actual competition in a city as big as Toronto. It seems that heavy lobbying paid off. A recent report suggests that the Toronto City council voted against affordable high speed Internet. From the CBC:

A plan to create a “city-owned high-speed municipal broadband network” that would have made internet access affordable for low-income Torontonians won’t be going to council next week after Mayor John Tory’s executive committee voted it down on Wednesday.

The committee unanimously approved a revised plan for the city program known as ConnectTO, which will go to council on May 11.

Committee members voted to remove a recommendation asking council to endorse a network that would “help ensure equitable access to broadband internet for residents regardless of their financial means or circumstances.” Now, the plan will focus on increasing high-speed internet primarily among city sites.

The vote came after public deputations calling on the city to provide affordable internet access for all.

“The internet is essential,” said Earl LeBlanc, a senior and a member of Toronto ACORN, a group that represents low- and middle-income people.

“Families need connection to the internet and it’s no longer a luxury,” LeBlanc told the committee.

Perhaps most crucially is the fact that not only is Toronto citizens been effectively denied affordable high speed Internet, but it also prevents a precedence being set. If this sort of thing moved forward, it could very easily have provided a blueprint for other municipalities to follow suit. It would have ultimately been a patchwork solution to Canada’s cell phone and Internet rate crisis, but a patchwork solution is better than no solution at all. It’s very similar to how Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, killed universal basic income in the province. No precedence was set and other jurisdictions never really pursued the idea that would have lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty.

So, it seems that affordable high speed Internet has been, once again, stamped out of existence likely at the behest of the large ISPs. If there was ever a question as to why Canada has it so bad, all of the above developments provides examples. It is thanks in part to all levels of governments actively working to ensure it never happens. This is capped off with a federal regulator who is all too willing to do anything and everything the telecom giants want at the expense of everyone else. It’s sad. If there was ever hope that Canada would be able to harness the power of the Internet and the country would become a leader in innovation, that innovation will continue to see roadblocks with the realities of ISP monopolies being in the way with high prices and low quality service.

(via @OpenMediaOrg)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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