Why should Canada subsidize broadband in Nunavut?

A commitment to ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable telecommunication services is enshrined in the Telecommunications Act. Section 7 of the Act sets out the objectives of Canadian telecommunications policy, including the objective “to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada”.

Currently, southern telephone operators (and by extension, their customers) pay a small tax (less than one percent of revenues) into the National Contribution Fund which supports the delivery of the Basic Service Objective (BSO) in rural and remote areas. The BSO was defined some time ago and currently only mandates the delivery of landline phone service and dial-up Internet access. NBDC has argued, as have others, that the current definition is outdated and should recognize broadband as an essential service.

The Economic Development argument

Numerous studies from the likes of the World Band, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Telecommunications Union, academics and other governments, have shown the positive link between broadband and economic development. Without continued and substantial investment in northern broadband, the digital divide will widen and economic prosperity will become increasingly elusive for Nunavut and Nunavummiut.

NBDC’s own broadband socioeconomic impact assessment found that if Nunavut were able to leverage high-speed Internet (or more accurately, broadband) with the same degree of success achieved by rural communities in the south are able to, the current level of impact from Internet access could grow between 2 and 3.2 times their current levels, to between $30 and $50 million in GDP (at market prices), between $20 and $30 million in direct and spin-off wages and salaries (household income), between 390 and 630 jobs, and between $3 and 5 million in direct and spin-off tax revenues.

The Human rights argument

Frank La Rue, United Nations ‘ Special Rapporteur on the promotion and Protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said it best:

Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.

The nation-building argument

Just as the national railway of the 19th century and the TransCanada Highway of the 20th century were essential infrastructure to connect Canada from coast to coast, in the 21st century Canada needs to invest in the information highway to truly connect Canada from coast to coast to coast.

The Arctic Sovereignty argument

Given the current interest in the Arctic, its resources and waterways (from Canada and other nations), it is in the national interest to support healthy and strong communities in the North and affordable and equitable broadband is a necessary requirement.

Broadband is essential infrastructure for arctic sovereignty. Without adequate communication services in the North there is the risk that emergency services, delivery of health and education, government operations, northern aviation, business activity, banking and other financial transactions, and military operations could be compromised. Without adequate communications services, the future of arctic communities is compromised.