Thank you very much, Madam Chair and members of the committee, with special greetings to my MP, Mr. Amos.
It's nice to see you here, Mr. Amos.
As said, my name is Jay Thomson, and I'm the CEO of the Canadian Communication Systems Alliance, or CCSA, as we call ourselves. Joining me today is a member of our board who is also the CEO of Execulink, based in southwestern Ontario in the town of Woodstock, and that's Mr. Ian Stevens.
Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your important deliberations regarding Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like Execulink, CCSA's members are small and mid-sized independent communications companies that provide broadband Internet, video and telephone services, mostly to smaller and rural communities across this country. Their services have become essential to Canadians during this pandemic, a fact that all governments have recognized and confirmed.
I want to assure you that our members take this essential designation seriously. They are committed to keeping Canadians connected during these challenging times and to meeting the increased demands for installation, higher speeds and more monthly band.
In that respect, our members' proactive initiatives include the voluntary suspension of Internet data caps and overage billing, continued service calls—with heightened safety precautions—and the waiver of late payment fees. In addition, as video providers, our members are currently working in co-operation with many broadcasters to provide free previews of a number of TV channels, including children-oriented stations, in order to make available additional activities for those who must still stay at home.
As you know, Madam Chair, last week the House of Commons held its first-ever and historic virtual parliamentary session. The session used video conferencing, just like thousands of Canadians have been doing over the past few weeks to connect with family and friends and access online education and emergency services, and to continue working, just like we're doing now.
Unfortunately, as we know, last week's virtual parliamentary session was not without issues. Several participants had trouble hearing the member who was speaking at the time, and others had difficulty accessing the simultaneous interpretation. The ability of a member to fully participate in the session was largely dependent on where they live, and that's because the quality of their Internet connection is dependent on where they live.
While the majority of Canadians live in urban centres with good broadband connections, millions of others outside those centres continue to have issues with connecting. The trouble that MPs had participating in the recent virtual parliamentary session serves as a perfect illustration of Canada's shortcomings when it comes to universal access to high-quality broadband Internet service.
It's because of those shortcomings that CCSA and other organizations representing smaller communications providers have come together to jointly ask the government to expedite its financial support for rural broadband to help connect more Canadians faster. As this committee looks at ways for Canada to recover both financially and socially from the COVID-19 pandemic, making expedited investments into rural broadband should be high on your list.
Increased and expedited government investments in Canada's broadband infrastructure will advance the ability of all Canadians to participate in our digital economy and will be crucial for stimulating economic recovery by generating employment opportunities and promoting business growth.
Hundreds of locally based independent Internet providers in this country are keeping Canadians connected during this crisis. They also seek to expand their network so they can connect even more, but the reality is that low population densities in the areas they serve means it will be uneconomic to do so without government help.
With the right amount of funding, properly allocated, and with partnerships with government, locally based service providers will be able to reach many more Canadians and do it soon.
Over the years, we have worked constructively with all levels of government to ensure that Canadians, wherever they live, can actively participate in our digital society and economy. We recognize now more than ever that we all need to work together to keep Canadians connected to these critical communications services so that they may access necessary, accurate and up-to-date information and stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues.
For Canada, the return from investing in rural broadband is clear. With universal access to quality broadband services, more Canadians will be able to fully participate in and contribute to our modern economy and to help us quickly get back on our feet.
No parliamentarian, regardless of the riding you represent across this vast and great country, will again be deprived of the ability to fulfill your democratic duties because of a problem connecting.
Thank you again for this opportunity. We look forward to responding to your questions.