OECD Report Finds Canadian Broadband Slow, Expensive

In recent months, much of the discussion about high-speed Internet service in Canada has focused on two key issues – net neutrality and the need to bring broadband access to the remaining underserved areas in rural Canada.  Both of these issues are now squarely on the public agenda with the CRTC conducting hearings on net neutrality next month and the government committing millions toward rural broadband initiatives in this year's budget.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that issing is a third, fast-growing concern, however.  According to a new OECD report, Canada has one of the slowest and most expensive consumer broadband networks in the developed world. The OECD report, widely viewed as the leading global benchmark on broadband networks, compared Canada with 29 other countries on a range of metrics.  These included broadband availability, pricing, speed, and bandwidth caps.

At first glance, the numbers do not seem that bad, with Canada ranking ninth out of 30 countries for broadband penetration. While that represents a sharp decline from years ago when Canada prided itself in standing second worldwide, its current position is unchanged from last year. Yet the situation becomes far more troubling once the OECD delves deeper into Canadian broadband pricing and speed.

Canada is relatively expensive by OECD standards, ranking 14th for monthly subscription costs at US$45.65 per month.  By comparison, Japanese consumers pay an average of US$30.46 per month and consumers in Britain spend an average of US$30.63.  The relatively high prices may help to explain why there are still many Canadians with access to broadband networks that choose not to subscribe.

Not only is the Canadian Internet relatively expensive, it is also comparatively slow, ranking 24th out of the 30 OECD countries.  Internet users in Japan, Korea, and France enjoy a genuinely different Internet experience, where the far-faster speeds allows for applications and services that have yet to make their mark in Canada. Moreover, the speed gap between Canada and most of the OECD appears to be growing.  The fastest consumer speeds often come from fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services that are commonplace in countries like Japan (48 percent of consumers) and Korea (43 percent of consumers), but virtually non-existent in Canada.  In fact, the OECD placed Canada’s FTTH penetration at zero percent.

When price and speed are combined, Canada sinks toward the very bottom of the OECD rankings.  As measured by price per megabyte – effectively the price for speed – Canada ranks 28th out of 30 countries, ahead of only Mexico and Poland.  This may be the most telling metric, since it confirms that Canadians pay more for less.

Canadian consumers also face far less choice with respect to broadband options.  Canada was one of only four countries (Australia, New Zealand, and Belgium were the others) where all broadband options included "bit caps" that limit consumer use each month.

Canadian ISPs are quick to claim that they regularly upgrade their networks and the services they provide.  For example, Rogers announced new faster speeds for two of its broadband Internet services last week.  Although the new speeds were promoted as a free upgrade, the company raised its prices just two months earlier by as much as ten percent.

Most Canadians recognize the critical importance of broadband networks for communication, commerce, education, and access to knowledge. Canada was once a global leader, yet today the marketplace suffers from high prices, slow speeds, and throttled services that have led to an unmistakable decline in comparison with peer countries around the world.


  1. sudha krishna says:

    Definition of High Speed
    Thanks for this Michael. The OECD numbers confirm what many of us already know and the situation is even worse when it comes to upstream vs downstream speeds

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I have been arguing with friends and family that Canada is becoming a digital backwater. If we don’t have the speed (and I would argue that uplink is becoming more critical than downlink), we will not be able to compete on a global scale.

    Two recent announcements caught my eye:

    The first: the Australian government is funding a FTTH network and will then lease it out to ISPs. The second: Comcast in the USA has announced its DOCSIS 3.0 network with 100Mbps speeds.

    Where is our federal government with a similar announcement. Instead of sinking tax-payer’s money into GM, they should be looking to the future like the Australians.

  3. Bill MacEachern says:

    Too bad Rogers & Bell will either dismiss the report outright, or will promise that things will get better Real Soon Now. We all know that RSN = Never.

  4. David Gerhard says:

    Except, of course, Saskatchewan
    Sasktel doesn’t usually get included in these things because it is not a national carrier, but sasktel’s speed, price, and penetration are much better than the average canadian ISP. Saskatchewan is heading for 100% penetration by 2011 ( – i.e., even every farmer in the middle of nowhere will have access to high speed broadband), and I have never had a problem with download speed or price. I’m not a shill, just a loyal customer. Too bad I have to go to Rogers for my iphone…

  5. Steve Armstrong says:

    Is this just the main carriers?
    I agree that Canada’s telecom is failing consumers, but there’s one point I want to make: “Canada was one of only four countries where all broadband options included “bit caps” that limit consumer use each month.” This isn’t true, as many resellers of Bell Canada’s DSL offer unlimited bandwidth plans. (Bell still throttles these non-customers, but I’m hoping the CRTC will come to it’s senses and fix that).

  6. Isn’t this what the government wants though?
    That way they don’t have to get their hands dirty with the “duhh, what is it called? In-ter-net?” thing.

    The govt needs us for three sole reasons: sweat for other countries chopping trees, making steel and haul gravel/ore and all for a $0.25 dollar. Canadian’s serve no other purpose in their minds.

  7. Maebnoom says:

    You have no idea how angry all of this has been making me the past few years. We pay such an exorbitant price for slow speeds & *ridiculous* monthly bandwidth caps. It’s almost enough to make me move to a friendlier “internet country” in search of greener pastures…

  8. Sam Davies says:

    Please bailout the internet for Canadians, and not the ISP’s!!!
    Could you imagine….

    The government funding fibre network development, instead of wasting $$ backing the antiquated automotive industry.

    Create jobs, and create a great service for the people…

    One can dream….

  9. I see things on the internet about streaming video, movies over the internet, rich content, etc. and consider it all a joke. We pay high premiums for Shaw Cables fastest service and its too slow to support all of the above. IMO,if all of this crap is so important for their business model, then why don’t they deliver speed enough to use it.According to the speedtest website, both down & up-load speeds have gone down over the last 2 years. The upload speeds have gone down further than the download speeds.

  10. Blame the Queen
    Since everybody has to buy their uplink from Bell, this is hardly surprising. We tolerate monopolies in this country far too well. On a related note, its interesting that we’re such a “hotbed” of piracy according to the USTR and Conference Board of Canada, yet we have such lousy internet.

  11. OECD fan says:

    Good post and I agree with all the assumptions, except that all the OECD stats and numbers quoted are outdated. According to the most recently available OECD data ( Canada is ranked 10th, not 9th. Furthermore, Canada is ranked 16th for monthly subscription costs at $US52.50 per month and not “14th for monthly subscription costs at US$45.65 per month” as in the post above. Same with numbers for Japan and and Britain, which are US$ 37.47 and US$ 35.53 accordingly. The correct numbers support the statements even stronger, so a bit of a fact checking would have added points to this post and the its reprint at TS column..

  12. “high speed”
    @Harold: Look at who you are paying: Shaw Cable. They make money off of selling you channel packages and pay-per-view. Do they really have an incentive to provide you a service that would cut into their profits?

  13. Left Rogers and Bell
    The high prices and lack of service you get from Bell and Rogers is why I left them They will use any tactic to sell their service and conveniently forget to tell you about the hidden costs. Plus I got tired talking to a computer (Emily at Bell and her cousin at Rogers).

    I am much happier with the price and service I get from their competitor ACN. Yes people you do have a choice to get better pricing and 24/7 live support and not from India.

    However I have known for the longest time that Canada pays more for less and our internet speeds are lacking from other countries.

  14. Rogers and Bell – your days are numbered…
    The article is a only stating what most of us already know. We have a Duopoly in this country and nothing will change until there is more competition.
    Announcements will be made. Plans will be tabled then when the furor dies down Rogers and Bell will lobby the CRTC to “protect the industry and infastructure” that they have built. Candadian jobs and Canadian ownership is at stake blah blah blah. Substitute “Internet access” for “cell phone” and you get the same results. Poor concentration, poor service and 2 big fat rich companies that won’t change until we make them.

    James O’Malley
    Toronto, Canada

  15. Except, of course, Quebec
    Quebec’s main cable carrier Videotron has a 50mbps option – which would put it in the top three. It costs more eg: $80/mo….

    Rogers (18mbps) and Bell (16mbps)…..why?

    An interesting, detailed breakdown of price and download speeds is here:

  16. W. Hugh Chatfield I.S.P. says:

    President – CyberSpace Industries 2000 Inc.
    I was intrigued with Robert Ferchats attempt to rescue Nortel and set off on a new vision for Canada – a high speed internet – coast to coast to coast.

    I saw a parallel with the construction of the national railroad.

    National Railroad – steam machines running on rails of steel – a nation builder for the industrial age

    National Internet – connection machine running on rails of light – a nation builder for the information age.

    I seems Ferchat is now unlikely to succeed with his vision to move Canada to the top of the list of 30 industrialized nations – but vision is what it will take to make this happen. Too bad I don’t see any leaders (in power) now – or even on the horizon that have the vision to make this happen.

  17. I don’t know if I believe this…

    Apparantly, by that obviously non-biased article — Canada is doing great!


    This is unreal, I can’t believe CBC would publish such trash. Atleast they’re saying it was a ‘study’ funded by some of the most evil monopolies in this country.

  18. Rural Canadian Internet User
    I am a rural customer who got Explornet and it Sucks they only guarantee that 50% of the time it will be 80% faster than dialup,for $55+/mth you are allowed a 16 hr plan, so for 8 hrs/mth you get internet that is 80% faster than dialup. As per customer service. And when they choose to it cuts you back to no speed. If you want to do a system update or download you almost have to take your computer to town…They don’t tell you that before you sign the contract for 3 yrs, and the signs they put up state it is high speed..Shaw,Bell,Tbaytel why do you make me live in a black hole everyone around me has good internet but me:(( sigh.