A wide-ranging decision by Canada’s telecom regulator will see millions go into the pockets of city dwellers, and millions more going to broadband access for rural areas.
But not in Newfoundland and Labrador, and not in the rest of Atlantic Canada.
The money for the refunds and upgrades comes from a series of “deferral accounts” created starting in 2002 as part of a complex regulatory scheme designed to foster competition among telecom companies in Canada.
Basically, instead of lowering fees to consumers, the dominant player was required to maintain fees at a specific rate. Instead of just pocketing the extra profits, the company — Aliant, in the case of Atlantic Canada — was required to put the excess money into the deferral account.
“It was never substantial in Atlantic Canada the way the formula worked out, and over the last few years there are certain other minor initiatives the commission undertook with deferral account funds,” said John Traversy, executive director of telecommunications for the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The CRTC is abandoning the strategy, so the $700 million sitting in accounts will be put into rebates and network upgrades.
For Newfoundlanders and Lab-radorians without access to broadband Internet services, the best hope is competition, Traversy said Thrusday.
However, consumers may get a bit of help from the provincial government.
Rural Development Minister Shawn Skinner said broadband is available to about 80 per cent of people in the province, but through the government broadband initiative, that percentage could climb into the low 90s.
Skinner said the government is working with private telecom companies to have fast Internet service at all government buildings in the province.
The spinoff benefit of this, is that the government can subsidize bringing a broadband cable to a small community, and then the residents there can have access to the faster service.
“We would like to bring Internet services to that (community), and there’s also a hundred, or a thousand people living in that community, and we’d like them have access to that Internet,” Skinner said.
“So we’ll help pay some of the cost to lay that fibre — that high-speed Internet cable — into Community A, because we’re going to benefit as a government.”