Remote and Indigenous Broadband: A Comparison of Canadian and US Initiatives and Indigenous Engagement

This article compares funding and other broadband policies for rural and Indigenous regions in Canada and in the United States, concluding with lessons from Canadian and US policy and regulatory experiences that could be relevant for broadband policy development in other countries with rural and Indigenous regions. There are many similarities in regulations and policies in the US and Canada concerning Indigenous and rural broadband. Both have several government funding programs to upgrade or extend rural broadband, including to Indigenous/Tribal communities. In both countries, Indigenous organizations, including Indigenous providers, have advocated for policies to extend affordable broadband, and to require consultation by carriers that receive government funding or licenses to serve Indigenous lands. There are also some important differences:

  • Unlike the US, Canada has no national policy of providing operational subsidies for rural providers or low-income users;

  • There are no units responsible for Indigenous matters within federal telecommunications agencies (CRTC and ISED) in Canada, whereas there is a unit (ONAP) within the Federal Communication Commission;

  • In Canada, the CRTC provides funding for nonprofit (including Indigenous) organizations for participation in regulatory proceedings; there is no comparable funding for nonprofit participation in FCC proceedings;

  • The FCC has primarily relied on reverse auctions for allocating broadband funds in the US, while Canadian agencies primarily use comparative selection;

  • The FCC has approved some incentives for expediting broadband installation in the US such as OTMR. There is no comparable policy in Canada.

  • Consultation with Indigenous governments/communities is required for providers seeking to serve or access Tribal/Indigenous lands in the US, but may not be enforced. Such conditions are not generally required in Canada, although they may be included in some federal broadband funding guidelines.

Remote and Indigenous Broadband: A Comparison of Canadian and US Initiatives and Indigenous Engagement