The Sad State of Broadband in Canada

In response to poor results in recent OECD tables and a number of other benchmarks, Canadian telcos and cablecos have fought back by commissioning a “study” to respond to criticisms about the (in my view abysmal) state of the Canadian broadband market. The author concludes “Canadians have access to some of the most affordable services, while also benefiting from some of the world’s fastest connection speeds for both wireline and wireless broadband services”.

cable modemSadly, it seems only he agrees. In my role at Tucows I have the pleasure of traveling all over the world and having customers who are service providers all over the world. We are always discussing access markets. I could bore you with story after story but very few countries have slower, more expensive access offering than us in Canada. A fantastic study done for the FCC by the Berkman Center for Internet Studies at Harvard is just the most recent to confirm the sad state of broadband in Canada.

It is not that the author is incorrect, rather he is misleading and the document is more of a telco/cableco marketing document than a study. I will identify some specific criticisms.

First, and most importantly, is the definition of “broadband” which sets the benchmark from which all measurement and conclusion flows. The “study” uses 1.5mbs as its threshold. 1.5mbps! I believe this was the launch speed for Bell Canada’s dsl service in 1998. 1.5mbps as “broadband” borders on nostalgic. This, more than anything else, takes this from “study” to “attempt at persuasion”.

It is as if we were talking about hunger and debating how many Canadians are starving. I, and many others, are lamenting how hungry we are. We are complaining that in a country like Canada we should be eating MUCH better. Eating is important for health and innovation and jobs. And the telcos and cablecos have produced a “study” that assures us that we are in great shape. That in fact the whole country has access to a bowl of gruel every day. That we should be celebrating our leadership, not lamenting our laggard status. That we have healthy, competitive markets that are doing just fine thank you very much.

My second complaint is in the $/mbps analysis wherein the author concludes that we are not nearly as bad as other studies indicate. He uses as his sole basis for the analysis a Videotron service that is $80/mo for 50mbps. First, he ignores that this service is very limited in coverage and that a similar service from Rogers is $125/mo. Second, he lauds the fact that this moves us from 28th to 8th on the world tables. Never mind that this is only for OECD countries and that there are dozens of non-OECD countries who have far superior offerings. But 28th to 8th? It is like watching CBC coverage of Canadian athletes in the summer Olympics! “Just look at that top ten finish!”. Last, and most importantly, it completely ignores upstream bandwidth.

Rogers recently launched a 50mbps service to limited areas in Toronto. It is only “up to 2mbps” upstream! Quick story. My son (11) spent last weekend hard at work on a video for a charity project that his class was engaged in. After many hours and missing much of the weekend’s fun he finished his slightly over 3-minute video which naturally included some video clips that were HD. To upload that video to Vimeo took three tries and 45 minutes (and this was after failing to upload on a couple tries to youtube due to ?). Total time spent on the upload was well over two hours. AND, worst of all, after finishing we were obviously placed in to some kind of copyright-infringing bandwidth hogging penalty box at Rogers and the Internet basically crapped out and took some waiting and a number of router reboots to return to normal.

What parent wouldn’t want their son spending hours on the weekend filming, editing, doing voiceovers, poking at software to make a video FOR SCHOOL. FOR CHARITY! sadly, the current Canadian broadband market not only discourages, but punishes this behavior.

I want, and there is no reason we cannot have, at least 100mbs full symmetrical bandwidth. It is a global competitive imperative. Telcos, Cablecos, I do not want your lousy bowl of 1.5mbps gruel. Please sir, may I have some more?

(Thanks to Flickr user kainr for the photo and for releasing it under a Creative Commons license)

9 thoughts on “The Sad State of Broadband in Canada

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  2. Glen Merrick

    Total time spent on the upload was well over two hours. AND, worst of all, after finishing we were obviously placed in to some kind of copyright-infringing bandwidth hogging penalty box at Rogers and the Internet basically crapped out and took some waiting and a number of router reboots to return to normal.

    Best way to deal with this is to actually remove the power plug from your providers router, wait several minutes while the proms reset and then plug it back in.

    What I’d really like to see in Canada is some truth in advertising about internet uplink an downlink speeds. I have 10mb (supposed) from Bell, in Halifax and I can barely get 800-900K downlinks from really fast websites. My uplink is around 200-300K.

    Sad,crappy and overpriced.

  3. Éric St-Jean

    The real objection i have with including the 80$ for 50Mbps service for Vidéotron is that the transfer cap is at 100GB/month combined up/down – this means you will bust your cap within 5 *hours* if you were to fill your pipe. In turn, this means that you simply CANNOT reasonably use this service.

    If you used your connection for 3 hours per day but wanted to stay within your cap (as overages are extremely expensive and UNLIMITED! there is no cap on the overage charges!), you’d have to stick to about 2 Mbps average speed.

    80$/month for such a connection is starting to sound like quite a ripoff.

    They offer an extra 30GB of transfer for 12.97$/month. You can get up to 3 such packages, but you have to get them in advance and keep them for at least 30 days – they won’t automatically add them if you went over the limit. Going over the limit costs $1.50/GB.

    So, if we take the base service and add 3 30GB packages, we’re now at $117.50/month. Now it’ll take you ~8.5h to exceed your cap. If you were to use your service fully – at 50Mbps – for the whole month, you would get a bill for $24132.50. Granted, that’s a lot of data. But i just want to point out how ridiculous the terms of that offer are – it should not be legal.

    It CANNOT and should not be advertised as a 50Mbps service.

    See for details and to check my math.

  4. mjnr

    There _HAS_ to be a way to break the last mile, “two pipes” in to household, duopoly that the telecom and cable companies currently have.

    Why oh why doesn’t someone cover at least Canada’s large urban centre’s in a hybrid fibre / wimax network and offer full service symmetrical service? Given the number of unhappy Rogers / Bell customers alone I can’t imagine it would be difficult to get people to switch.

    In Toronto this is definitely feasible if only someone was willing to try (Cogeco I’m looking at you and your acquisition of the Toronto Hydro fibre backbone).

  5. End Monopolies

    Canadian broadband does not want consumers interacting with the internet. They only want us to consume. Rogers et al. does not want us to create, they want to dictate to us, they want us to be passive and not cause a fuss.

    They have monopoly over infrastructure we allowed them to build on our land. It is about time they start respecting our property before we take it away from them.

  6. Carol

    Something has to change, if we are to progress. The day is coming when all our movies will be streamed over the internet, no more DVDs etc. Canada will have to give us the speed and the bandwidth to do so or fall behind in technology.

  7. Gary

    I find it interesting that Sympatico seems to block access to this site. I had to use a web proxy to access the article!

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