So the CRTC is looking into whether internet service providers are actually giving customers the download speeds they’re advertising. As the saying goes, 2007 called – it wants its priorities back.
As per usual when it comes to internet issues, Canada is a latecomer to this particular party. New Zealand issued rules against the false advertising of speeds five years ago. In Australia, the Competition and Consumer Commission gave similar warnings to telecom companies in 2009. The United Kingdom tackled the problem last year.
According to Ookla’s Net Index, average download speeds in Canada are around 12 megabits per second. While that’s not at all world-leading (it actually places 35th, ahead of both New Zealand and Australia but not the UK), it’s also not terrible. Many Canadians are subscribing to even faster services, at which point the question becomes: if you’re signed up to 20 Mbps, does it really matter if you actually get 15 instead? Of course, everyone likes to get what they pay for, but is this really that big of an issue? It was when speeds were lower – getting performance in the kilobits was a big difference when you were paying for megabits, but now, not so much.
It might also be a bigger problem if there weren’t so many other things the CRTC could be focusing on. Chief among them are upload speeds – never mind whether actual speeds equal advertised speeds, how about those appallingly slow advertised speeds in the first place? Canada averages just over 2 Mbps, or 69th, according to Ookla. Shouldn’t the regulator be asking internet providers why their upload offerings are so slow?
There’s also the issue of rural coverage. Canada continues its slide down the broadband subscription rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While Canada lorded it over the rest of the world a decade ago, it has since lost that leadership position largely through a failure to connect rural and remote residents. Rather than fiddling around with the few extra megabits that city customers may or may not be getting or throwing out some idle words, this should be a major priority for the regulator and its new chairman, Jean-Pierre Blais.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there are the issue of data caps – or the artificial limits imposed by ISPs no matter where their customers are. These caps restrict internet usage by customers and discourage innovative new online services from starting, blossoming or even entering Canada.
U.S. authorities have the right idea. The Department of Justice is now investigating cable companies to see if data caps and their assorted deals are anti-competitive by limiting prospects for the likes of Netflix or Hulu. In Canada, data caps aren’t just condoned by the CRTC, they’re encouraged as “economic measures” that combat non-existent congestion.
The CRTC should be tackling real problems rather than engaging in silly, anachronistic make-work projects whose need is questionable at best.