CRTC barking up the wrong internet tree

14 Jun

Remember when Akon was huge? That was 2007, where the CRTC’s current thinking is.

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.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in crtc, internet, net neutrality, netflix


2 Responses to CRTC barking up the wrong internet tree

  1. Eric Hacke

    June 14, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I haven’t researched this exhaustively, but from what I’ve been able to gather, both Rogers and Bell have completely stopped rolling out new wired broadband service to existing rural or semi-rural areas. If you don’t have it now, you won’t be getting it unless you live in an area that a new suburb development is expanding into.

    The government actually has a subsidy or program of some kind in place to roll out broadband to rural areas. The problem is that the telecom companies have successfully gotten the government to change the definition of “broadband” to include wireless service of sufficient speed.

    What this means is the subsidies that would have previously gone to expanding wired broadband are instead funding increases in wireless infrastructure.

    This is significant for two reasons. Firstly, wireless obviously is not the same as wired. The caps are at least an order of magnitude lower, (2-5GB compared to 20GB-300GB), the speed is extremely variable, and signal quality issues mean that you can’t get service even if they say you can.

    Secondly, wireless service is not subject to the same sort of wholesale competition that wired is, so the pricing is worse and the contract terms are much more onerous.

    The geographic digital divide is a very real problem. My parents have much lower computer literacy and much less familiarity with online services because they can’t get decent internet access. But at least they don’t have to compete. Children born in rural areas have a significant disadvantage due to the lack of internet access, and they’ll have to work harder to catch up to kids who start off with a 100mbit line in their bedroom.


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