Canada is the world’s second largest country by land area, and the 35th most populous. It’s considered part of the ‘First World’ and is a key member of such organizations as the United Nations, NATO, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Francophonie, the OAS, and APEC. Canada has had a stable and un-threatened democratic process in place since 1867. It ranks highly among global indices for standard of living, education, healthcare & employment. One area that Canada seems to be falling behind the rest of the world in, however, is the provision of internet services.
The twenty-first century has brought many technological innovations, including high speed data movement. The internet itself is over 40 years old, with almost 20 years of widespread public availability. In such a progressive country, with a large population spread over a huge area, one would imagine Canada would be at the forefront of internet usage and provision.
Well, that’s half correct. Canadians rank number one in the world for file sharing, log the most time to dedicated browsing on average (45 hours per month per person) and watch the most online video per capita. Yet they don’t even rank in the top 10 for internet provision.
A recent study has found that Canadians tolerate an average data speed of 4.73 Mbps, placing them 11th in the world. Compare that with Netherlands – a country that ranks 31st for most users and enjoys 6.50 Mbps on average. Head further east, and things keep improving; Romania is the 39th biggest user, but its citizens can connect at an average speed of 6.8Mbps. The real internet superstars are in Asia however: Japan is the 3rd biggest internet user in the world, enjoying average speeds of 8 Mbps. Tiny Hong Kong is only the 49th biggest user, but its speed averages 8.57 Mbps. And in South Korea of all places, which ranks 11th in terms of overall usage of the internet, the average speed is a whopping 16.63 Mbps. That’s three-and-a-half times faster than a supposedly ‘leading’ nation like Canada.
Why is this? Well, primarily it’s because Canada has been slow to take up fiber-optic as a transmission medium. Of the four major players in the Canadian market, only Rogers & Bell offer fibre to their customers, and then only in certain locations. For instance, Rogers customers can connect at the impressively high speed of 250Mbps – but only in selected areas of Toronto, Ontario and Moncton New Brunswick. For other customers in their service area of eastern Canada, they can offer 150 Mbps as the top download speed, but only 10 Mbps for uploading, on their top level products. Rogers don’t service the western provinces of Canada at all. Bell Internet, Canada’s largest ISP offer a maximum speed of 175Mbps to their fiber connections, or more commonly the same speeds as Rogers secondary levels of service; but Bell only cover Ontario and Quebec, leaving the rest of the country without an option for high speed internet at all.
Teksavvy (www.TekSavvy,com) service a range of locations, but their best product crawls along at a miserly 28 Mbps if you’re lucky enough to get that speed on a Shared Rogers cable connection (which you won’t). Basically TekSavvy is an organization that was formed to re-sell Bell and Rogers services at a lower rate, and offer their own brand of technical support. You’re basically signing up for Bell or Rogers though, so the only advantage is a slightly cheaper price. The major down side is that there’s more fees up front for setup.
The fourth largest and still growing ISP in Canada is Telus, and all they provide is mobile coverage for tablets and other devices, with suggestions of high drop-out speeds and inconsistent coverage being common complaints.
So, what’s to be done? There’s a range of options, from more government investment and federal coordination to a massive deregulation which would open the industry to many new players. Whatever the outcome; Canadian internet users, especially in regional centres, hope it arrives sooner rather than later. They’d like to join the twenty first century too. I’m personally keeping an eye on Google Internet, a.k.a. Google Fiber.