On the way to high-speed internet everywhere

The countdown has begun: within a year, all Quebecers should be able to access high speed Internet.

Margaux Payment enjoys watching Netflix. But in the third week of each month, this resident of Notre-Dame-du-Laus, in the Laurentians, has to put her hobby on “break” for a few days: even if she wanted to, no unlimited internet plan is available. accessible in its area.

“And it is sometimes slow. I then have to wait 20 to 30 seconds to load a page, ”explains this retiree who subscribes to the Xplornet satellite internet service. “It’s not a big deal in my case, but imagine how frustrating that would be for a student! She says.

Academics who need to take a distance course, employees working from home, citizens who need to access online services: having the possibility of subscribing to high-speed Internet is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Unfortunately, like Margaux Payment, approximately 250,000 households do not yet have access to it in Quebec. However, a plan is in place to connect everyone by September 2022. Here are the details.

High speed operation

Ensure that all Quebecers have access to high speed Internet (50 megabits per second [Mbit/s] for download, 10 Mbit / s for upload) at a reasonable price: this is the goal of Operation High Speed, the plan that brings together various projects intended to connect the communities of the province (including those of previous years, such as Régions branchées) .

For the moment, it is difficult to have an accurate and up-to-date portrait of the situation in Quebec. Certainly, the problem is not confined to remote areas. Areas are underserved across the province, with some areas more affected than others. The percentage of households able to access high-speed Internet, for example, is under 50% in large areas of the Outaouais, according to estimates published by the provincial government in March.

To bring this rate to 100% everywhere, Quebec was divided into nearly a hundred territories, and each was entrusted to an Internet service provider (Videotron, Cogeco, Bell, Xplornet, Sogetel or Telus). They must take an inventory of underserved homes, then submit a plan to connect them all. “A map will be put online by the end of the year so that Quebecers can make sure that they have not been forgotten, but there will not be a shortage of many”, assures Gilles Bélanger, MP for ‘Orford and Parliamentary Assistant to the Prime Minister (“High Speed ​​Internet” section).

To date, the budget envelope for the various chapters of Operation High Speed ​​is approximately $ 1.3 billion, including $ 826 million announced in March by Quebec and Ottawa (in equal parts). Ottawa also has a plan to connect all Canadians, with its Universal Broadband Fund, but its timeline is more like 2030.

From optical fiber to satellites

The technologies used to connect homes vary from case to case, but optical fiber is the preferred option, since it is the most stable and the fastest. “If a Hydro-Quebec pole goes to your house, we should be able to install fiber,” says Gilles Bélanger.

However, the fiber is sometimes impossible to deploy, if not too expensive. Other options are then evaluated, such as connection to the Internet by cellular network. As a last resort, for really isolated people, a satellite internet service is also envisaged, which includes for example Starlink, of the American company SpaceX. This remains to be confirmed, but the government would then potentially take care of the purchase of the equipment and the installation.

Starlink uses a technology different from established satellite providers, with a constellation of low-altitude satellites allowing better speed (around 100 Mbit / s download, and 40 Mbit / s upload) as well as low latency; to chat in videoconference without delay, for example. In Canada, Starlink sells its antenna for $ 649, and unlimited service is offered at $ 129 per month. Its commissioning in Quebec is scheduled between the summer and the end of 2021.

It would have been cheaper to give a Starlink antenna to every household that does not have high speed Internet access than to build fiber optic networks everywhere – Operation High Speed ​​costs an average of $ 5,500 per household – but “There are sovereignty issues to consider in using an American supplier, and the satellites would not have the capacity to offer the same speeds to 100,000 customers at once,” explains MP Gilles Bélanger.

Note that Starlink is not the only technology of its kind. The Canadian firm Telesat also plans to offer the Internet with low-level satellites over the next few years. The Canadian government has also entered into an agreement with this company to guarantee high-speed Internet access capacity in Canada to the most difficult-to-reach regions. “This capacity will be made available to Internet service providers at a reduced rate,” explains Sophy Lambert-Racine, from the public relations department at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

The same price in the region as in the city

Internet service providers who profit from millions of government dollars will own the infrastructure put in place. In return, they must offer packages similar to those offered in large centers.

This agreement is for a period of five years, after which the suppliers will be free to charge the prices they want. There is obviously a risk that prices will increase, since only one supplier has been appointed per territory. No competition will therefore force it to keep its prices low, a situation that is already creating problems in certain regions of Quebec, where monopolies are forcing residents to accept packages that are often too slow or too expensive. A low-altitude satellite internet service could, however, put pressure on access providers and partially resolve the problem.

“This five-year period is long enough to allow the arrival of competition,” believes Gilles Bélanger. In particular, he hopes that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will force owners of fiber-optic infrastructures to offer part of their excess bandwidth to other providers, which would promote competition.

“It may be the case, but it’s not sure either,” tempers Andy Kaplan-Myrth, vice president of the Regulatory Affairs and Distributors division at the telecommunications service provider TekSavvy. Access to fiber optic networks has been under study since 2015 at the CRTC, “but it’s a total mess,” he laments. Other regulations will also have to be put forward to guarantee healthy competition, in particular to ensure that the cost of reaching more distant networks is not prohibitive.

Such regulation could also be good news for those who already have access to high speed Internet at the moment and who are not satisfied with the packages offered to them, due to a lack of competition. Internet everywhere is one thing, but affordable Internet is another.


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