CRTC chair says lack of access to telephone poles is slowing spread of internet


OTTAWA — Canada’s internet network companies seem to be having difficulty getting timely, affordable access to telephone poles in underserved parts of the country.

CRTC chairman Ian Scott says the industry has described the pole problem as by far biggest barrier to extending broadband services in rural and remote areas of Canada

He says the CRTC is exploring solutions and submissions that are being accepted until Nov. 30.

Scott made the comments in a video speech to a two-day virtual conference for Canada’s independent internet service providers (ISPs).

He says deployment of broadband internet that meets the CRTC’s minimum standards to all parts of Canada has become a bigger priority since the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year.

Scott says the CRTC’s goal is to have 90 per cent of Canada’s homes and businesses covered by acceptable fixed broadband by the end of 2021, up from 45 per cent at the end of 2019.

“Curiously, achieving the speed targets of our universal service objective may be the smallest obstacle to overcome,” Scott told the 2020 ISP Summit Tuesday.

“Ensuring Canada’s less well-served communities have access to unlimited data packages, competition from a number of service providers and high-quality service may prove to be even greater challenges,” Scott said.

The conference is an annual event held for ISPs that aren’t owned by one of Canada’s phone or cable companies, which collectively serve about 90 per cent of internet subscribers.

The CRTC is in the midst of settling a long-standing pricing dispute between the independent ISPs and the network owners that supply them with wholesale access to the internet.

Scott said he wouldn’t discuss the CRTC’s position on wholesale internet rates until it completes its review of a 2019 decision that’s been the subject of multiple appeals.