A reversal of the CRTC decision to impose usage-based billing on smaller internet providers would help some consumers but do little for the overall quality of service in Canada, industry figures suggest.
Industry Minister Tony Clement said Thursday that he expects the CRTC to reverse the ruling announced earlier this week.
"And if they do not do this, we wanted to make sure the cabinet would take its responsibilities to do the same," Clement told reporters.
The CRTC later announced it had already decided to review its ruling favouring Bell, which wanted to put usage caps on companies that rent its internet access.
While many consumers may celebrate the government's intervention as a triumph over big business, industry observers say it's important to put the achievement in perspective.
"This is a big victory in terms of what was on the agenda, but we certainly have a lot further to go," said Steve Anderson, founder of OpenMedia.ca, the website responsible for submitting a 357,000-signature petition to Clement, urging him to intervene.
"We want him to be bold on this decision — he can be a champion if he wants to … but the decision is not going to deal with our real, underlying structural problems."
In terms of overall speed and reliability, Canada's broadband networks were ranked a respectable 15th out of 72 countries last October by a study team at the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo.
But a look at other factors tells a different story.
The 72-country rankings used a complex metric called "broadband quality score," which compares download speed, upload speed and connection responsiveness, then the level of broadband penetration in each country.
But up-to-date raw figures from netindex.com indicate the quality of internet service in Canadian homes is lower than the October rankings suggest. Netindex.com uses the same source of raw data — from www.speedtest.net — as the study that ranked Canada 15th, but compiles it in almost real-time.
Canada comes 36th in terms of average download speed, at 9.52 megabits per second (Mbps), according to netindex.com. At that speed, a user can download a CD-quality song in three or four seconds.
This is slower than both the U.S., which ranked 31st, and the United Kingdom, which ranked 29th, and far behind South Korea at 36.56Mbps, which has always ranked first in recent years.
Average upload speeds available to Canadians are even more striking in the netindex.com rankings. Canada is in 64th spot globally, at 1.35Mbps, behind smaller countries with less developed infrastructures, including:
- Mozambique, ranked 62nd, at 1.41Mbps.
- Swaziland, ranked 61st, at 1.43Mbps.
- Kenya, ranked 58th, at 1.52 Mbps.
- Kazakhstan, ranked 40th, at 2.10Mbps.
At those speeds, it would take roughly 20 seconds to upload the same three-minute CD-quality song.
South Korea shows the highest upload speeds as well, offering speeds nearly 15 times faster than Canada's, at 20.11Mbps.
Most telling, perhaps, is where Canada stands in terms of value. The most recent figures, compiled in 2009, indicate that monthly subscriptions for broadband in Canada are expensive relative to the rest of the world.
Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society ranked Canada 25th out of 30 countries in a report that looked at pricing for services ranging from low-speed to high-speed connectivity.
This combination of slow connection speeds and expensive monthly subscriptions suggests that, although reversing the CRTC's recent ruling would be step forward, much needs to be done to modernize Canada's broadband industry.
Anderson, of OpenMedia, hopes a reversal of the CRTC decision will signal a trend and launch industry-wide changes that will ultimately benefit consumers, rather than telecom companies.
"I don't think communications will ever be the same in the country," he said after Clement announced his response to the CRTC ruling. "The relationship between the people and communications policy has changed now. People don't want to go back to being frustrated."