Technology & Science

Broadband quality study finds Canada lagging

Canada has some of the poorest-quality broadband among advanced countries, according to a study of global internet infrastructure.

Canada has some of the poorest-quality broadband among advanced countries, according to a study of global internet infrastructure.

Canada placed 25th out of 34 countries in the University of Oxford's ranking of innovation economies, far behind top-rated South Korea and just ahead of Australia and the United States.

The second annual study, released Thursday, was conducted by MBA students at Oxford's Said Business School, Spain's University of Oviedo and network builder Cisco. It measured internet download and upload speeds as well as latency, or the amount of time it takes data packets to reach users, through 24 million speed tests to determine a country's broadband quality score.

A total score of 30 or more indicated a country was well equipped to handle today's internet needs, such as social networking, basic video chatting and streaming. A score of at least 50, based on a slightly different formula that emphasizes higher upload speeds, indicated a country's broadband infrastructure was well positioned for internet uses that will be more commonplace over the next three to five years, such as high-definition video streaming, visual networking and large-file sharing.

Canada squeaked into qualifying for adequate broadband with a score of 31. Nine countries — South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Latvia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania — qualified as being geared up for future uses. Japan was the only country to achieve the study's required score for that category last year.

The thresholds were lowered from the group's previous study. Last year, countries needed a quality score of 32 to qualify for adequate broadband and a score of 75 for advanced service. Canada came in just under the adequate score last year.

In both studies, the thresholds were determined using a formula that weighted downloads, uploads and latency according to the quality requirements on a popular set of applications used now and expected to be used in the future.

Rural divide not as great

Canada did rank well on balancing broadband service between urban and rural areas. In some cases, residents outside major cities experienced better broadband quality than people in them. Canada was only one of a few of the 66 countries studied where such a phenomenon existed. Most countries saw a big gap between urban and rural broadband quality.

"The broadband quality study shows us which countries have made real moves towards the internet of the future," said Maria Rosalia Vicente, a professor at the University of Oviedo, in a statement. "It also provides fresh evidence of the urban versus rural quality divide. The challenge for countries now is to bridge this quality divide."

The study reinforced a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that suggested Canadian broadband speeds were slower and more expensive than average.

The OECD's methodology was criticized by consultants working for the telecommunications industry. Other analysts said the OECD report and the Oxford study are proof that Canada is falling behind other developed nations in broadband rollout, which is a key driver to economic, social and cultural innovation.

"The Canadian rankings are lousy given that the country aspires to be viewed as a global leader," University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist wrote on his blog.