- Bridge the digital divide by increasing household Internet use to 100% by 2025
- Increase access to higher speeds – 50/10 Mbps available to 90% of Canadian households by 2021, 95% by 2026 and 100% by 2030 (Canada's Connectivity Strategy)
In today's digital economy, access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet is essential, allowing Canadians to connect with family and friends, use a wide range of government support services and grow their business by accessing global markets. Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, increasingly rely on the Internet to access vital services, educational resources, as well as economic and social opportunities. While progress has been made to improve Internet connectivity in rural and remote areas, certain gaps persist.
According to Statistics Canada, 89% of Canadian households have a subscription to the Internet in 2017, up from 85% in 2014 (Figure 3.1). There are different barriers to Internet use, as reported in a new survey by Statistics Canada (Figure 3.2). For those households that want a home connection, cost was identified as a barrier by 34% of rural households and 44% of urban households without home Internet. One in five households reported lacking the skills or knowledge to use the Internet. Service quality presents a third barrier, with nearly one in five rural households (19%), compared with just 2% of urban households, identifying lacking service quality as a barrier.
On a national basis, there has been strong progress towards providing higher speeds. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), 84% of Canadians had access to 100 Mbps or greater download speeds in 2017, up from 75% in 2015 (CRTC, 2018).
Similarly, the same percentage (84%) of Canadian households had access to speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload in 2017 (CRTC, 2018). Access at 1Gbps is following a similar trajectory, with 50% of Canadians having access to these speeds (CRTC, 2018). However, Internet availability varies considerably across Canada, with large urban areas consistently having higher rates of coverage and faster download/upload speeds than rural areas – In 2017, only 37% of rural households had access to 50/10 Mbps, compared with 97% of urban homes (Figure 3.3).
The Government recently announced High-Speed Access for All: Canada's Connectivity Strategy as part of the broader Rural Economic Development Strategy. Canada's Connectivity Strategy outlines a process and investment for working together with partners to ensure that all Canadians have access to high-speed connectivity, no matter where they live. It is especially essential that Canadians in rural and remote communities can fully engage with each other, the rest of Canada, and the global economy. The Strategy aims to deliver 50/10 connectivity to 90% of Canadians by 2021, 95% of Canadians by 2026, and the hardest-to-reach Canadians by 2030.
The Government of Canada launched the $305 million Connecting Canadians program in 2014, which is approaching completion in delivering improved connectivity for 300,000 underserved households. The Connect to Innovate program was launched in December 2016 to expand high-speed Internet in communities underserved by the private sector across Canada. The $500 million initiative will now connect more than 900 communities, including 190 Indigenous communities; exceeding the original 300 that had been anticipated. Projects underway include the laying of more than 20,000 kilometres of high-capacity fibre optic network across Canada. Approximately 380,000 households will have enhanced connectivity by these investments, along with more than 1,100 public anchor institutions like schools, hospitals and libraries.
Budget 2019 announced historic new investments that will mobilize up to $6 billion toward universal connectivity, including $1.7 billion for the launch of a new Universal Broadband Fund, a top-up for the Connect to Innovate program, and securing advanced Low Earth Orbit satellite capacity to serve the most challenging rural and remote communities. Other commitments include a $1 billion investment through the Canada Infrastructure Bank – which will seek to leverage up to $2 billion in additional private sector investment – expanded support through the Accelerated Investment Incentive and $750 million for the CRTC's Broadband Fund.
As the Government works to bridge the digital divide of today, it also has an eye on the digital world of tomorrow. 5G, the fifth generation of wireless communications systems, will facilitate the next generation of high-capacity, extremely fast, reliable, secure, and ultralow latency wireless networks. 5G will also enable new systems and applications that could rely on billions of sensors feeding streams of real-time data through machine-to-machine communications. In March 2018, the Government announced the first public-private partnership aimed at increasing economic growth driven by 5G technology – the $400 million (Evolution of Networked Services through a Corridor in Québec and Ontario for Research and Innovation's project) – which will provide access to 5G networks for SMEs, researchers, and academia.