DEBATE: Is access to high speed internet a right?

Do Canadians have a right to high speed internet? The CRTC is currently trying to decide what constitutes "basic communications service," and some advocacy groups say fast broadband fits in that definition. We convene a 180 debate.
The CRTC is trying to decide what constitutes "basic communications services." (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

The CRTC is asking the public a question: what constitutes basic communications service in Canada? 

And depending who's talking, the answer varies widely.  Citizen activist groups want the definition to include universal and affordable access to high speed broadband. They point out that Canada's broadband is some of the most expensive in the world, and go so far as to declare accessible high speed broadband a "human right." Others claim the whole human rights angle is a red herring that emotionally charges the issue and ignores the real question: how far should government go to regulate the internet? 

This week on The 180, we debate both sides of the argument. 

Josh Tabish works for OpenMedia, an organization that campaigns for a fair and open internet. He feels high speed broadband is just as critical as clean water and decent shelter. He says if government doesn't step up and regulate the speed and cost of internet service in this country, private industry will never make the changes we need. According to Tabish, this will widen the already considerable digital divide within Canada, and affect our competitive edge in the global economy. Josh wants Canada to set ambitious broadband speed targets, the way they have in Australia and the US. But he admits such improvements won't come cheaply: 

"... just like investments of the past -- whether that was the railway that connected the country, the telephone system that connected the country --  those looked crazy and expensive at the time, but were some of the most important investments we ever made." - Josh Tabish, OpenMedia

Roslyn Layton is a PhD Fellow in Internet Economics and Policy, currently with the Alborg University's Centre for Communication, Media, and Information Technologies in Denmark. Wary of expedient political solutions, she calls for more academic study of the underlying issues, and argues overall for less regulatory intervention by the CRTC. In her view, governments should not "micro-manage" broadband by setting unrealistic and arbitrarily high speed targets. Instead she suggests the CRTC help facilitate research that identifies creative ways to deliver the services Canadians need.

"...There is quite a bit of low hanging fruit that could be improving peoples' internet experience today that doesn't require subsidies, that's not a big cost, that can happen with our existing networks, and be a lot more cost efficient and faster." - Roslyn Layton, Alborg University's Centre for Communication, Media, and Information Technologies