Technology & Science

Canada drops in UN communications technology ranking

Canada's reputation as a leader in information and communications technology took a hit Monday after it dropped out of a United Nations report's rankings of the top 10 most developed countries.

Canada's reputation as a leader in information and communications technology took a hit Monday after it dropped out of a United Nations report's rankings of the top 10 most developed countries.

Canada is ranked 19th out of 154 countries according to how advanced its use of information and communications technology (ICT) is, a drop of 10 places from ninth in 2002, according to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union.

The ranking was based on a number of factors, including the number of citizens per 100 who had fixed line and mobile cellular phones and accessed internet, broadband internet and mobile broadband services. It also considered the amount of bandwidth available per internet user, the proportion of households with computers and internet access, and the literacy and education levels of a country's population.

Sweden ranked first in the 106-page report, followed by South Korea. The remaining countries in the top 10 were all from Western Europe: Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Finland and the United Kingdom.

U.S. also drops in standing

Canada was the only country in the top 10 in 2002 to not make the cut in 2007, but it wasn't the only country to see a drop in standing. The United States also dropped from 11th to 17th.

The report says both countries suffered in the standings because of the gains made in Europe.

"Similar to the U.S., Canada improved in both ICT access and usage, but less than other top countries," the report said.

The report pointed to a number of areas where Canada lagged behind other nations in 2007, in particular mobile cellular penetration and mobile broadband penetration.

Canada's mobile cellular penetration — or the number of mobile phone subscribers per 100 citizens — was 61.7 per cent in 2007, trailing North American neighbours United States (83.5 per cent) and Mexico (62.5 per cent).

Canada also saw its land-line telephone subscribers drop from 2002 to 2007, from 65.9 per 100 inhabitants to 55.5 per 100 inhabitants in 2007. The U.S. experienced a similar decline, from 65.3 subscribers per 100 inhabitants to 53.4.

Canada also ranked poorly in mobile broadband, with only 1.5 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants at the end of 2007. But as the authors noted, mobile broadband was in its infancy in Canada.

The report is one of several in recent years to report on Canada's dwindling status as an information and communications leader. Canada once ranked second to South Korea in 2002 in broadband penetration, but now ranks 10th, according to the latest OECD figures, in June.

A 2008 Nortel Networks Corp. report also found that Canada was the least connected country among 17 nations studied. The study measured on "hyperconnectivity," or how many devices and communications applications people in the workforce were using.

Cellphone landscape changing

Canada's mobile phone landscape could be in for changes in the coming years, however, as a number of new players — including Quebecor-owned Videotron Ltee. and Toronto-based Globalive Communications Corp. — purchased wireless spectrum in a federal auction last year with the intention of building their own cellphone networks.

As well, the federal government recently committed $225 million to encourage the development of broadband internet connections to rural and remote areas, though some critics have called the investment modest compared to other nations such as Australia and the United States.

Australia, for example, has committed to an ambitious $4.7-billion AU ($3.8 billion Cdn) plan to upgrade its broadband infrastructure, while the U.S. recent stimulus package includes $6 billion US in funding to stimulate broadband deployment across the U.S.