The Goal of High-Speed Internet Across Canada: The Universal Broadband Fund
The internet remains an essential part of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a stronger case for the internet’s critical role in people’s lives. The internet serves as a central tool, functioning as a way for people to connect with their social spaces.
The importance of the internet — especially high-speed internet — in the world we live in today, is a large driving force behind Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund: The Government of Canada’s plan to provide high-speed internet to all Canadians by 2030.
What is The Universal Broadband Fund (UBF)?
The Universal Broadband Fund, or UBF, is an investment from the Government of Canada to support high-speed internet across the country. “High-speed internet” is defined as internet access with at least 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed, and 10 Mbps upload speeds.
$2.75 billion dollars will be put towards installing infrastructure dedicated to providing high-speed internet. This will be in the form of projects and programs, and for devices like satellites. The fund is projected to connect 98% of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026, with 100% coverage by 2030.
What is the Digital Divide?
The gap between internet access in urban areas compared to their rural counterparts is called the “digital divide.” The COVID-19 pandemic especially made this divide more noticeable, with a lot of services transitioning online. For students, this may mean having to miss class; for employees, this may mean having to miss a meeting; for people in need of healthcare services, this may mean that they cannot connect with a healthcare professional.
In 2020, Josh Tabish at The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) noted that Canadian internet service providers have neglected rural communities because they were not “worth it financially.” The UBF would help shoulder some of this cost that is demanded by internet service providers.
Who Lacks High-Speed Internet Access?
Almost 99% of Canadians living in urban areas have high-speed internet. However, this number is only 46% in rural areas, and only 35% within First Nations communities. For those who do have internet in those areas, the internet quality is often poor, yet more expensive.
Four years ago, the average price for 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed was $88.02 CAD per month in rural communities; this price was $72.60 CAD per month for those who lived in urban communities. However, the price seems to have gone up overall: those in B.C.’s Chawathil First Nation during 2020 paid approximately $130 CAD per month for internet at 1 Mbsp download speed.
The Future Goal
With 2030 eight years away, there is still time for improvement. The gaps in internet accessibility need to be addressed not only in location, but also price and quality.
Internet within rural communities lacks the improvement seen with its increasing pricey fees. In April 2020, CIRA found that internet download speeds in rural areas were 12 times slower than download speeds in urban areas. Hopefully the UBF will help Canadians within rural communities connect better, and with a quality that matches a more reasonable price.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “2018 Communications Services Pricing in Canada.” Communications Monitoring Report 2019, Government of Canada, 21 Jan. 2020, https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/policymonitoring/2019/cmr2.htm. Accessed 17 Apr. 2022.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. British Columbians to Benefit from a Historic Plan with up to $830 Million toward Connecting All Remaining Rural Households in the Province to High-Speed Internet. Government of Canada, 8 Mar. 2022, https://www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development/news/2022/03/british-columbians-to-benefit-from-a-historic-plan-with-up-to-830-million-toward-connecting-all-remaining-rural-households-in-the-province-to-high-.html. Accessed 17 Apr. 2022.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Universal Broadband Fund. Government of Canada, https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/139.nsf/eng/h_00006.html. Accessed 17 Apr. 2022.
“New Internet Performance Data Shows the Staggering Scale of Canada’s Urban-Rural Digital Divide.” Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 8 May 2020, https://www.cira.ca/node/8736. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
Stewart, Briar. “How COVID-19 Worsens Canada’s Digital Divide.” CBC News, 23 Sept. 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/covid-19-highlights-urban-rural-digital-divide-1.5734167. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.