Question Period: Access to High-Speed Broadband Networks

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Chateau Laurier, Ottawa

Hon. Marty Klyne: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Gold, my question is a follow-up on broadband connectivity for Canadians. I previously asked about spectrum options, also a subject of interest to Senator Patterson with his Bill S-242. Today, I’m going to focus on broadband internet service access for Indigenous communities, particularly on First Nation reserves.

On March 23, you noted:

. . . the Universal Broadband Fund supports the government’s initiatives to ensure that 100% of Canadian homes and businesses have access to speeds of at least 50 over 10 megabytes per second by 2030 . . . .

Those upload and download speeds are the CRTC’s standards today, and I expect with the advancement of broadband internet technology that will soon be yesterday’s standard.

More concerning today is the target date of 2030, which is going to be difficult to achieve, especially in First Nations households on-reserve.

In its 2020 Communications Monitoring Report, the CRTC published eye-popping statistics on the percentage of households on First Nations reserves that have access to broadband internet at the CRTC’s download and upload speed standards of 50 and 10 megabytes per second.

The report indicates that the availability of broadband internet services at the CRTC’s standard has been expanding in Canada, with 87% of all households having access. However, that is not the case for households on First Nations reserves, which are trailing far behind with only 35% having access to this service standard. Furthermore, there are significant disparities on First Nations reserves in different provinces and territories. In Saskatchewan, just 1.7% of households on-reserve have access to the internet at the CRTC’s standard. Yet in Quebec, it’s 63%. In Manitoba, it’s 2%. But in B.C. it’s closer to 68%, not to mention the fact that in Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Northwest Territories, that number stands at 0%.

I acknowledge that the government has invested billions to enhance Canada’s broadband network, including the very recent news from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario that —

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Klyne, if you have a question, could you please get to it?

Senator Klyne: Yes. Certainly, thank you, Your Honour.

Senator Gold, what is the government’s targeted plan to address the dismal level of broadband internet access on First Nations reserves? Also, is the government planning to implement a digital transformation strategy to ensure that Indigenous peoples will be mobilized and ready to actively and meaningfully participate in the new digital economy?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. It’s an important one. The government knows that improved connectivity will ensure that Indigenous communities have access to online learning, job training, health care, social and cultural services as well as opportunities for entrepreneurship.

Federally funded projects are supporting the connection of nearly 1 million households, including those across 190 Indigenous communities. To support all applicants, but particularly smaller and Indigenous applicants, under the Universal Broadband Fund, the government created a pathfinder service that assists in building partnerships, points to potential sources of funding and helps to navigate the application process. In addition, the Universal Broadband Fund has allocated $50 million for mobile projects that primarily benefit Indigenous communities, and the Universal Broadband Fund’s Rapid Response Stream has already announced broadband projects that aim to connect 15,000 Indigenous households by the end of this year.

I’m advised that the government’s plan was developed to respond to its goal, to which you made reference, of connecting all Canadians to high-speed internet by 2030. That’s why the government is working with its partners, including all levels of government, the private sector and, of course, Indigenous communities.

With regard to the second part of your question, the government recognizes that Canada historically has not armed under-represented groups with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the innovation economy, and that’s why the government is bringing new or improved high-speed internet to 190 Indigenous communities that face unique connectivity challenges. A cornerstone of the federal government’s Intellectual Property Strategy was the promotion and protection of Indigenous knowledge and cultural expression. The government is committed to continuing to deliver simpler, more targeted and effective support for Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses.

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