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Opposition MPs, including the NDP's Charlie Angus, say the government's neglect has resulted in Canada slipping behind in broadband. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Opposition politicians are criticizing the federal government for failing to take action on broadband after several international reports gave Canada's high-speed internet services low marks.

"Canadians are paying some of the highest costs for some of the lowest speeds," said Charlie Angus, who is the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, in a statement on his party's website Monday.

"A small cabal of cable giants have been allowed to squeeze out competition and slow down innovation while dinging the consumer for third-rate service.

"The Harper Conservatives have no vision for a digital future. The United States is enshrining net neutrality principles as a fundamental principle for economic restructuring. The Europeans are setting benchmarks for open access to high speed. Meanwhile, the Conservatives are giving the cable giants a free pass to gouge consumers."

Liberal consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague told CBCNews.ca that alternative broadband business models, from a stronger wholesale regime to the splitting off of networks from the companies that own them, need to be examined.

The government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have allowed phone and cable companies to call the shots, he said, which has resulted in the country slipping.

"Canada has an abysmal record that reflects absolute neglect," he said. "We're looking after a handful that really don't deserve to have this much power."

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The MPs were reacting to a report last week by Harvard University that weighed the availability, quality and price of broadband in 30 industrialized nations and found Canada near the bottom, at 22nd overall. The study came to same conclusions as recent reports by Oxford University and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A separate report funded by Canada's largest internet providers, however, recently found the opposite — that Canada is a world broadband leader in four key areas: availability, user adoption, speed and price.

All the studies agreed that broadband is a major driver of any country's economy.

The Harvard report came at a crucial time, with the CRTC set to announce this week the results of a network management hearing, held in the summer. The ruling will determine the future of net neutrality — how much control service providers should have over internet content and traffic — in Canada.

The CRTC's U.S. counterpart, the Federal Communications Commission, is set to propose new net neutrality rules to Congress on Thursday.

Canadian service providers have argued that existing laws already prevent abusive behaviour, such as unfairly discriminating between certain kinds of traffic, but both the NDP and Liberals support enacting stronger rules.

Government officials could not be reached for comment on Monday evening.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that, "A separate report funded by Canada's largest internet providers, however, recently found the opposite - that Canada is a world broadband leader by every measure." In fact, the study found that Canada is a world broadband leader in four key areas: availability, user adoption, speed and price.
    Oct 28, 2009 12:49 PM ET