Home > crtc, internet, telecommunications > CRTC is peddling broadband Kool-Aid

CRTC is peddling broadband Kool-Aid

August 2, 2011

The CRTC released its annual Communications Monitoring Report last week and, as usual, the document shows Canada to have a very healthy - and wealthy - telecom and broadcast industry. Revenues and subscribers are up pretty much across the board and everyone is happy.

Right? Of course not.

Among the more notable items in the report are some claims - and omissions - made about broadband internet services. Given the overly glossy presentation of some of the findings it sure looks like the CRTC is guilty of some serious PR spin, which is somewhat alarming because it’s not something a supposedly neutral regulator should be doing.

The report paints a rosy picture of broadband internet services, suggesting that prices and speeds compare very well against other countries. According to the summary, “With an average of 5.5 Mbps, Canada ranked second only to Japan in an international comparison of internet download speeds.”

If you’re currently drinking something, now is the time to spit it out all over the screen. Only in the halcyon world of the CRTC, where the sky is purple and pigs can fly, could that claim possibly be true.

Looking at the actual report, it’s clear how the regulator came to its ridiculous conclusion: only eight select countries - Canada, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Australia - were compared (page 192).

When the full numbers from Akamai, whose statistics the regulator’s claim is based on, are factored in Canada actually places ninth in average speed among OECD countries (South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands are all ahead). Add in a few non-OECD emerging broadband powerhouses, such as Latvia and Romania - both of whom rate better than Canada - and the CRTC’s claim gets even more absurd.

The same goes for other studies that include non-OECD countries. Ookla, for example, rates Canada 33rd in download speeds, or only slightly above the global average. At the very least, the CRTC is guilty of the same selective grading and broadband bikini-ing as Cisco in its recent internet usage report.

What does the CRTC report say about upload speeds? Not much - and that’s probably for the best. That same Ookla report ranks Canada 65th in upload speeds, behind the likes of Rwanda and Kazakhstan.

Seriously. That’s no exaggeration. Here’s a speed test I just did on my Rogers connection: a very respectable 18 megabits per second download, with a ridiculous 500 kilobits upload. Amazingly, here’s another test I did on Mobilicity cellphone, where the upload was 1 Mbps, or double that of the Rogers cable connection.

It’s probably not necessary to get into the importance of good upload speeds. While fast downloads allow for good media consumption, upload speeds are integral for creation and therefore innovation.

The bottom line is Canada can’t even try to aspire to an innovation-based economy without first making sure it has proper upload speeds. This hasn’t occurred yet to the CRTC, which is obviously too busy peddling its Kool-Aid vision of a country with wonderful broadband.

  1. Marc Venot
    August 2, 2011 at 4:22 am | #1

    Until two months ago I was able to play Clan Lord from Deltatao, which a light MMORPG using the UDP protocol (instead of IP) but now the latency is so large that the play has become very restricted. Does this appear in those statistics?

    • August 2, 2011 at 11:58 am | #2

      Heh, oddly enough i live in Eastern Canada and play many games that run over UDP and I’ve had more issues with latency and packetloss this summer than I’ve ever had.

  2. dillyhammer
    August 2, 2011 at 8:42 am | #3

    I can’t imagine why this is a surprise to anyone. The CRTC does not have sufficient experience to concoct its own brand of Koolaid. It simply takes that which is supplied by the incumbents, re-brands it, and serves it up as its own drivel.This is what a fully-captured and completely corrupt regulator does, and it’s plain for all to see. The REAL scary part is we have a government standing around doing nothing - head buried in the sand. People voted Conservative: slow, capped $150/MO internet en route to a Canadian home near you.

  3. Greg Henderson
    August 2, 2011 at 9:26 am | #4


  4. tx
    August 2, 2011 at 9:33 am | #5

    You forgot: The mobilicity internet is $10/month with no caps. Rogers on the other hand charges 4x more!

    Thats +1 reason why rogers shouldnt even get a drop in 700 Mhz LTE spectrum.

  5. Stever’
    August 2, 2011 at 9:38 am | #6

    “The government regulates important communication services to ensure that they contribute to Canada’s culture and economy and meet the social needs of Canadians. ”

    Me thinks they’re falling well short of their intended or rather stated target.

  6. Wolfgang Huettinger
    August 2, 2011 at 9:52 am | #7

    Don’t forget that the Canadian user is not allowed to use his upload or download speed. The monthly allowance is used up after 18h of full speed download!

    So what does it help to have high speed Internet if you can only use it once per month?

    The allowance is the same as I would be on dial-up 24/7 (compared to 3MBit/s at Rogers).

    Most other countries have no limits on how much you can download! The limit there is the download/upload - you want faster download = you have to pay more.

    That is the reason why in Canada where everyone gets high speed who can not use it looks good in the statistics. Whereas other countries like UK or Germany where you can download as much as you like and if you want it faster you have to pay a bit (like $10) extra. That is the reason why those countries are rated at a lower average speed as most people are happy with an 6Mbit/s connection as they can download as much they like.

  7. mcfudge
    August 2, 2011 at 11:14 am | #8

    I’m so happy to have recently cancelled Bell Internet for $75 per month and move on to TekSavvy for only $32 per month with a 300GB limit. Very sadly, I am moving to Belwood, Ont (north of Guelph) and the only internet available is Rogers or Bell wireless for $70 per month with an anemic 10 GB per month download limit. EVEN WORSE, IS THE ADDITIONAL $10 PER ONE GIG OVERAGE CHARGE. That is absurd and should be criminal. TekSavvy charges 25 cents per 1 gig, and Rogers charges $10.00 per 1 gig?!? Obscene. Canadians ought to rise up again against the CRTC because that is where the real problem lies.

  8. August 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm | #9

    It’s pretty shameful that the CRTC is not only rubber stamping the incumbent usurious requests but has taken to parroting line from their PR departments as well.

    Hopefully enough bad news will convince the powers that be that functional separation is a good idea.

  9. dillyhammer
    August 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm | #10

    Ok - just finished reading the full report. I find it very difficult to believe that a CRTC bureaucrat could author such a piece of junk without becoming overwhelmed with the desire to resign and remain unemployed for at least a decade. The report is a shameful display of bias and is truly indicative of how worrisome that whole organization has become. Seriously - the government really needs to pop the hood on this dumbfounded group and start asking some real hard questions on just what the hell they are doing. SHAME!!! SHAME!!!

    • Maynard Krebs
      August 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm | #11


      You should write a letter to the editor using pretty much your exact words. Dare the Star, Globe, and National Post to publish it.

  10. John
    August 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm | #12

    “It’s probably not necessary to get into the importance of good upload speeds. While fast downloads allow for good media consumption, upload speeds are integral for creation and therefore innovation.”

    I seriously question oft repeated argument that average upload speeds have anything to do with innovation on the internet. Does the average internet user in Canada contribute to innovation on the internet? Are faster upload speeds than the current average actually required for innovation on the internet? Do those people in Canada who do actually innovate on the internet and need faster upload speeds not have access to those faster upload speeds and are those faster upload speeds affordable to them? How do these prices for internet in Canada compare as a proportion of per capita income?

    If your chief complaint is Canadian consumers overpay for internet because there isn’t enough competition in the communications industry in Canada, then let that perfectly valid argument stand on its own. But don’t try to strengthen your argument about lack of competitiveness by grasping at the specious consequence of hampered innovation.

    • August 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm | #13

      Hmm. It seemed pretty obvious to me why upload speeds are important, but I guess not.

      I think you’re missing the point. Perhaps you’re right - the average Canadian doesn’t innovate, but could that be because they don’t have the tools to do so? If the average Canadian had access to good upload speeds, could they not design the next Skype or Netflix? Without such speeds, would they even try? No, not likely. If you’re building anything online and thereby transferring large amounts of data, you simply need good upload capability. That’s not specious, it’s logical.

      Also, the people who DO innovate depend on average people to use their creations. If nobody uses their creations, they won’t get off the ground. A Canadian company that conceivably pays extra for top-notch upload speeds could invent a great 3D hologram video conferencing tool, which of course is likely to require a strong and fast upload. Would the average Canadian be able to use it? Probably not, which means that such an invention is not likely to happen here or, at the very least, it won’t stay here - its creators would take it somewhere it can be used.

      Then there’s the whole issue of cloud services. Needless to say, they won’t be originating here for many of the reasons above…

      • August 2, 2011 at 6:53 pm | #14

        If you’re trying to invent the next Skype or Netflix, you’re using a data center to serve your data and that’s a whole other universe. Someone trying to develop the next VoIP platform isn’t doing it from their cable modem at home. Data centers are plentiful (and cheap) in Canada, principally because the people who control both them and the pipes that service them are not the big incumbents for the most part and even if they were, enterprise users pay more for data centers and demand a lot more. Now granted, when I start doing video projects and want to send them to YouTube in HD, my 1Mbit/sec upload speed will make that take a lot longer and that’s frustrating. But that’s a far cry from the next big tech startup. If you are trying to run one of those, you have it budgeted into your financing for non-residential pipes,

      • dillyhammer
        August 3, 2011 at 8:49 am | #15

        The lack of decent upload speeds just adds to the whole culture of paralysis that the incumbents have cloaked our entire online presence with. Upload speeds play a vital role in the direction the internet is moving - two way communication. It’s not about “downloading web pages” any more, and every bit of marketing drivel the incumbents crank out is in that vein.It just goes to the very heart of our problem. Left to its own devices the telcos and cablecos would be entirely happy keeping our presence stuck in the internet dark ages. If it isn’t easy or can’t be monetized, “not interested”. Add this to the business case for functional separation.

    • Tom
      August 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm | #16

      John says, “Does the average internet user in Canada contribute to innovation on the internet?”

      Uh, yeah! They don’t need to be the innovators, just customers of the innovators. I use CrashPlan for online data backup (or try Carbonite, Mozy, et.al.). My first backup took about 5 (count ‘em) months given the slow upload speed and the even more ridiculous Rogers data caps.

      Now have several computers in the house backing up, using video chat, uploading home movies for the relatives or a few hundred hi-res photos from that last vacation, and that 1 Mbps link is a dog.

      If something takes hours, days, weeks, months to complete instead of seconds, minutes, hours, then yeah, innovation is stifled. Why? Because I may choose not to be a customer of that innovator because I can’t take advantage of his service.

      What we may never know is how many innovators look at the current upload speeds, realize they haven’t got a hope in hell of doing anything about that or convincing the CRTC or the telecartels to provision adequate bandwidth, and just give up before they start.

      “Build it and they will come.”

  11. John
    August 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm | #17

    I’ll reiterate that if you want to make this about innovation you are going to have to do a better job arguing it, rather than just assuming the importance of upload speeds.

  12. August 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm | #18

    Parallax Abstraction :

    If you are trying to run one of those, you have it budgeted into your financing for non-residential pipes,

    You seem to have strengthened the point. Countries with better upload speeds don’t require would-be innovators to spend more initially. Every-day tinkerers can do more in their basements before they have to get to financing, etc.

    • August 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm | #19

      Not if you’re trying to invent the kind of things you’re referencing. Let’s be realistic here. There’s hardly anywhere in the world where a residential connection could power a VoIP or video on demand connection for any more than a tiny handful of concurrent users. If you’ve got an idea you think is going to be big and it’s something that requires a lot of active users to work, you’re going and getting financing to go in a data center. Hell, if you’ve got money saved up, $300/month will get you space in the Primus data center a few blocks from me. High tech startups don’t run off home connections, it’s silly to claim otherwise. I fully agree upload speeds in Canada are pathetic but claiming that the next big thing is being hampered here because of it? Come on. Speeds in the majority of the US are no better and plenty of big things (including the two examples you cite) started there and I guarantee you, they didn’t do it with a home connection.

      And you know, Justin Bieber got discovered and turned into the manufactured sensation that he is because of YouTube. Hell, if anything, that’s an argument for lowering speeds. :)

  13. John
    August 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm | #20

    Parallax Abstraction hit the point I was going to get to next: that the person who is coding a website isn’t going to host that on their home internet connection. That would be true even if internet upload speeds were 10x what they are today (and thus likely bringing us to the top of the list). The coding is what takes up the bulk of the time-not uploading that code to an external server. The specious part about the argument of hampering innovation is that I doubt any Canadian has abandoned their month long website coding project because their code would take 30 minutes to upload rather than 15 minutes. Plus you still haven’t demonstrated that Canadians who are engaged in such innovative endeavours are unable to obtain faster uploads speed at an affordable price.

    Of course there may be a point where internet speeds are so slow that innovation is hampered, because internet users are unable to ultimately use the services that are being programmed (for example if speeds were so slow that services such as VOIP are inoperable). But I don’t think that uploads speeds in Canada are in such dire straights. Besides that most internet innovators aren’t coding websites for the Canadian market alone, but also the U.S. and U.K., and the rest of the world.

    The creation of content was also mentioned (such as YouTube videos). I don’t think that is the type of innovation I think you were talking about in your original post. (I see that as being more of a cultural issue in terms of promoting Canadian content rather than an innovation issue.) Either way the above argument still stands: the content is hosted externally and creating the content takes a disproportionate amount of time when compared to uploading the content, so the disincentive to create is likely negligible.

  14. John
    August 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm | #22

    “And you know, Justin Bieber got discovered and turned into the manufactured sensation that he is because of YouTube. Hell, if anything, that’s an argument for lowering speeds. :)


  15. David Dawkins
    August 2, 2011 at 8:11 pm | #23

    Shaw #yeg gets the same results as yours now. Up until a few months ago dl was roughly 30 Mbps. My plan has not changed just the gouge by Shaw.

  16. Alasdair
    August 3, 2011 at 12:41 am | #24

    The argument that people generating the innovation aren’t limited by residential internet access misses the point: very few programmers out there have their salaries paid and a commercial internet connection provided in order to develop genius new innovations without a *business model* that is surely going to include a “will anyone be able to use this?” reality check attached.

    Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need someone to *adopt* the new technologies and *use* the result as a customer. Got a great idea for an internet service that requires a lot of traffic going from your customers to your data centre? Too bad: Canadians won’t be *able* to use it, no matter how willing they are. I love the idea of cloud-based backup resources because it allows for off-site data protection, but I’m not going to waste my time uploading my entire hard drive at 512kbps.

    But it’s time to put on my devil’s advocate hat: Can we actually correlate higher residential upload speeds to higher adoption/use of cloud-based services, or more content uploading like providing content to YouTube et al?

  17. MarcusC
    August 3, 2011 at 8:16 am | #25

    Last time I looked the basis of the Internet was the exchange of information at all levels from Joe Blow on up. A balanced World of give and take.

    A severely unbalanced upload to download makes us all by default greater consumers than producers.

    All eyes and ears, but no mouth.

    In the days of dial-up connections were more balanced, ADSL and Cable came along and due to technological restraints we ended up with a large and it would seem an ever growing imbalance. With newer fiber (not fibs) technology rest of the world is rapidly moving ahead with more balanced internet connections and we, the majority of Canadians, are simply being left behind.

    Want to exchange live, decent quality two way video communication with your relative and family in South Korea or a host of other countries? Not going to happen anytime soon for most of us, but you can watch ‘em OK if they want to stream their video to you.

    Somebody mentioned the easy availability of servers in Canada to enable fast distribution and uploads. While basically true, the argument itself falls apart when one tries to feed that server by uploading. The bottleneck is still there, the upload to the server from your typical Canadian’s connection still sucks.

  18. August 3, 2011 at 10:28 am | #26

    I’ve been watching the discussion about upload speeds, and I felt like it was time to chime in. Upload speeds (or at least better ones) are important for many reasons.

    The first one I can think of is so the offices can promote teleworking arrangements, reduce travel, and therefore lessening out environment footprint.

    Secondly most “innovators” are under the influence of the creative cycle. So they may, like myself produce a large volume of work at 1 am, and having the ability to upload it to the internet immediately may mean the difference between it staying on my computer forever or actually getting out there.

    A lot of people run personal sites and home businesses that need to serve up content constantly to the internet, I agree most residential ISPs won’t let you run a server on a residential connection but that doesn’t mean, you don’t have to regularly upload huge amounts of data to your data center either.

    In brief there too many reasons why we need to catch up with the rest of the world.

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