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Telus proposed B.C. lobby feds to support projects that didn’t immediately meet speed target

Last updated on March 17, 2021

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Digestible version (full story below):

  • Telus proposed having British Columbia ask the feds to increase funding for its wireless high-speed internet access (wHSIA) projects despite not immediately meeting the 50 Mbps download, 10 Mbps upload benchmark set by the CRTC
  • The proposal can be seen as a bet on the scalability of Telus’ technology, as the company said such projects may meet or even exceed the benchmark
  • The presentation to B.C.’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in July was a push to advance Indigenous connectivity in the province, and laid out how Telus was making inroads to bring broadband to those communities
  • The presentation comes to light as Telus publicly proposes initiatives to boost connectivity to those communities, and as Indigenous Services Canada said broadband projects often get limited funding because other priority categories, such as energy and roads, also compete for money

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Deep version:

Telus prepared a presentation for British Columbia’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in July that asked it to lobby the federal government for the funding of projects that may not immediately meet the universal speed benchmark of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload (50/10).

The presentation, which was released to this publication through a freedom of information request, proposed pitching government funding for the lower speed thresholds in part to accommodate Telus’ wireless high-speed internet access product. That product, called the Smart Hub, is a WiFi set-up that uses the company’s LTE network to provide internet to rural homes with speeds of up to 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload (25/5).

Telus’ July proposal essentially banked on the scalability of its technology — that while it can only offer 25/5 now, it will be able to make some improvements that may meet and even exceed the benchmark in the future. That is despite the fact that the universal broadband objective is currently double those speeds.

The presentation was a broader layout to the B.C. government about Telus’ progress on Indigenous connectivity, while adding ideas for Indigenous connectivity that included increasing and targeting funding for those communities and getting the most out of funding by coordinating the various sources.

Last year, the company invested $124 million just on rural wireless upgrades to certain parts of its network, including expanding access to its wHSIA technology.

Late last week, Indigenous Services Canada tabled a response to a question from a Conservative MP that said broadband funding for Indigenous reserves is limited because those projects compete with other priority items, such as energy, roads and bridges and fire protection. ISC also said the 2016, 2018 and 2019 federal budgets haven’t allocated any money to it specifically for the purposes of connecting Indigenous communities with high-speed internet.

A couple of months after the presentation was given, the province announced in September a $90-million injection into its Connecting British Columbia program for the rapid “expansion of both cellular projects and fixed wireless broadband projects” that deliver a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload to the home by October 31, 2021 — though it said the benchmark speeds are still preferred.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the federal government announced the details and call for applications for the $1-billion Universal Broadband Fund, which added $750 million to the pool, injected another $50 million for mobile connectivity for Indigenous communities, but stuck with the minimum benchmark speeds of 50/10.

Also this month, Telus released a report about tackling the rural broadband problem. It stated that “with different project timelines and differing criteria for success (projects that provide speeds of 25/5 Mbps being eligible under the B.C. program and not the UBF) there is a clear opportunity to coordinate the UBF with provincial programs to align on eligibility criteria, timelines and outcomes to maximize the funding made available by the different levels of Government.”

In a statement, Telus spokesman Richard Gilhooley reiterated some of the report’s conclusions. “In partnership with Indigenous governments, TELUS has brought High Speed Internet to approximately 18,500 homes, businesses, and community hubs,” the statement read.

The statement also repeated strategies from the company’s rural broadband report that suggested ways the country can achieve universal access to the benchmark speeds by 2025 — five years sooner than what the government hopes. That strategy includes different technological approaches, the company said, including freeing up spectrum held by operators that isn’t being used.

“As wireless solutions are often the most workable in rural and remote communities, the sooner more spectrum is unlocked and put to use, the sooner we can provide 50/10 Mbps to hundreds of thousands of underserved homes and premises,” the statement said. “For example, this simple change could lift an additional 270,000 Canadians up to the 50/10 standard in Alberta and BC alone.”

Wireless technologies, indeed, serve as a compliment to a telecom’s existing arsenal of products to connect the home in these remote areas. Bell has its own product called “wireless to the home,” with speed packages that meet the 50 Mbps download benchmark.

According to the B.C. government, 38 per cent of rural Indigenous communities in the province have access to 50/10 speeds, while 36 per cent of all rural B.C. communities have access to those speeds. In 2008 and 2009, the province committed $40.8 million to the All Nations Trust Company, whose mandate is the expansion of connectivity to all 203 First Nations communities in the province.

A spokesperson for the province said there are still funds remaining from that pool to benefit Indigenous communities.

Receipts” is a series of stories based on financials, documents from sources or public records requests

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