Northwestel expresses concerns over CRTC basic internet service expectations

The Bell subsidiary is worried it won’t be able to meet the CRTC’s expectations in Canada’s north

Bell-owned northern Canada telecom service provider Northwestel has filed a submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) expressing concerns about the Commission’s network quality framework for the eventual rollout of internet as a basic service.

According to Northwestel’s August 16th, 2018 submission, the northern carrier is worried that it won’t be able to meet the Commission’s 50 millisecond latency expectations.

The CRTC first declared that broadband internet should be treated as a basic service in Canada — setting aside $750 million in funding to meet that goal — in December 2016.

More than two-years-later, the Commission’s CISC Network Working Group laid out the minimum network quality threshold that Canadian carriers should meet.

In addition to establishing that download speeds should amount to at least 50Mbps and upload speeds should meet a 10Mbps minimum, the Commission also established a minimum latency threshold of 50 milliseconds.

However, Northwestel used its August 16th submission to express reservations about meeting the Commission’s latency expectations, especially due to the vastness of the Canadian north.

“Unfortunately, physics dictates the speed of light and it is not possible, based on current or foreseeable technology, to reduce the latency experienced by a communication travelling a certain distance from point A to point B beyond a certain point,” reads an excerpt from Northwestel’s August 16th submission.

“In other words, if points A and B are already connected with fibre transport, no amount of investment would further reduce that latency.”

Northwestel further raised the concern that the carrier’s inability to meet the CRTC’s expectations will lead to northern communities being treated as edge cases, while Northwestel will potentially be denied funding, creating a further divide between internet access in Canada’s southern provinces and Canada’s northern territories.

Contrarian’s corner

It’s important to note that Northwestel’s submission didn’t argue against the Commission’s network speed expectations.

In fact, the carrier expressed quite a bit of confidence that it could meet the CRTC’s 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload threshold.

Instead, Northwestel argued that the Commission misinterpreted the evidence on the record, suggesting that the CRTC should establish a 100 millisecond latency threshold that would be more manageable for internet service providers operating in the north.


Chart shows Northwestel latency measurements.

“[The Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA)] evidence demonstrated that a 100ms round-trip latency threshold is reasonable and achievable in Canada and the Commission mistook this evidence to mean that 50ms roundtrip is achievable, which constitutes an error in fact,” reads an excerpt from Northwestel’s submission.

“This is concerning to Northwestel given we cannot reduce this latency through investments, even with subsidy, as achieving the Commission’s newly-established threshold is physically impossible to achieve for many northern communities even when served directly with the best network technologies available.”

Northwestel operates in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, northern British Columbia and High Level, Alberta

Parties interested in responding to Northwestel’s submission have until September 17th, 2018 to submit interventions.

Source: CRTC