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Marc Garneau

Sean Kilpatrick

The CRTC should make high-speed Internet part of its "basic service objective," because Canadians who do not have advanced broadband Internet will become "second-class citizens," Liberal MP Marc Garneau warned the federal regulator.

"Just as the railway and the Trans-Canada [Highway]were the critical infrastructure that linked our communities in the 20th century, fibre optics, wireless and satellites will be the critical infrastructure that links our society in the 21st century," Mr. Garneau, the Liberal critic for industry, science and technology, told a CRTC hearing on Tuesday in Gatineau, Que.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is reviewing several aspects of its mandate regarding rural and remote areas in Canada. In those areas, land-line telephone service is mandated but Internet service is often slower, more expensive and unreliable compared with connections in urban areas.

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Mr. Garneau's remarks are important mainly because a bold and significant broadband policy is more likely to come from politicians than from the regulator, since such a policy would require hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions.

The Montreal MP stressed that the regulator should make high-speed Internet part of its mandate and suggested a goal of delivering download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second (mbps) by 2014 and about 4 mbps by 2020. In remote areas, the high cost of delivering service does not provide private-sector companies with a sufficient return on investment to justify building infrastructure.

Some small communities in Ontario, in part using government money, have set out on grassroots efforts to build networks capable of 10 mbps as early as next year.

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