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Should high-speed Internet be a right?

TORONTO - Should every Canadian have the right to Google, stream YouTube videos, and tweet their random nothings from the comfort of their own home?

TORONTO - Should every Canadian have the right to Google, stream YouTube videos, and tweet their random nothings from the comfort of their own home?

The non-profit Public Interest Advocacy Centre says we should, and is calling on the federal government to follow the lead of Finland and Spain.

On July 1, Finland became the first country in the world to declare that its citizens should have the right to high-speed Internet access. Spain plans to enshrine the same right to reasonably priced broadband access sometime next year.

"The Internet, and in particular broadband services, are important both in terms of the economy of Canada and the individual lives of Canadians," said Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel of the PIAC.

According to the most recent statistics of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, almost 67 per cent of Canadian households had access to broadband Internet in 2008.

A report by the PIAC recommends that high-speed Internet be declared a basic service, much like telephone access was mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over 10 years ago.

"It was discovered that in order to be a full participative member of society access to a telephone service was required and we are certainly approaching that — if not at the circumstance — where broadband itself is something that is required in order to fully participate (in society)," Janigan said.

The CRTC is in the process of conducting public consultation on the issue and is seeking input until Friday.

The report notes that the federal government has long been presented with recommendations calling for broadband access to be available to all.

The National Broadband Task Force, established by the government in 2001, recommended high-speed Internet be available to all residents and businesses by 2004. In 2006, a Telecommunications Review Panel Report delivered to the government called for "a program to ensure that affordable and reliable broadband services are available in all regions of Canada, including urban, rural and remote areas, by 2010 at the latest."

Janigan said it will likely take government incentives to help Internet providers widen the range of service areas.

"From our standpoint, it's a situation where similar to the circumstances of telephone access (being provided) to high-cost areas through a subsidy, we're probably looking at the same thing here," he said.

Comment from Industry Canada was not immediately available. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement was given a timely reminder about the issue via Twitter on Wednesday when a newspaper reporter from the Nunatsiaq News in Nunavut tweeted to him about the region's flaky high-speed Internet access.

"By the way, my southern friends, I pay $120/mo for alleged broadband that's out half the time. This is why I'm so pissed off," Chris Windeyer tweeted.

 
 
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