The Digital Challenge: 1500 Days to Universal, Competitive Broadband in Canada

The CRTC issued its universal service decision this week, which included analysis of funding mechanisms for broadband access, broadband speed targets, and whether there should be a requirement to provide broadband access as part of any basic service objective. Consumers groups and many observers were left disappointed. The CRTC declined to establish new funding mechanisms (relying on market forces) or changes to basic service and hit on a target of 5 Mbps download speed (actual not advertised) to be universally available by the end of 2015. Critics argued this left consumers on their own and suggested that the targets were underwhelming, particularly when contrasted with other countries.

While I sympathize with the frustration over the CRTC’s decision to essentially make broadband a “watching brief,” I wonder why Canadians should expect the CRTC to lead on broadband targets and funding. Universal access to globally competitive broadband (in terms of speed, pricing, and consumer choice) is a perhaps the most important digital policy issue Canada faces and it should not be viewed through a narrow telecom regulatory lens. 

Rather, it is a government policy issue, one that requires a serious commitment by elected officials. With a new Conservative majority government, the era of excuses (the Liberals did nothing, minority governments make this issue too difficult) are over. Given the fixed date for elections, there are roughly 1,500 days left in the Conservative mandate. July 2015 provides the real target date for addressing the competitive and access concerns associated with Canadian broadband.

It provides four years to open the market to new competitors, facilitate the introduction of new wireless broadband alternatives, encourage the market to offer fibre connections in all major markets, foster new local competitors, leverage the role of high speed research and education networks, consider using spectrum auction proceeds to fund broadband initiatives, and address anti-competitive pricing models. It allows the government to set a realistic but ambitious target for broadband speed, pricing, and competition that allows Canada to reverse a decade of decline and once again become a global leader. Canadians can look at the benchmarks today in terms of current access, pricing, competition, and global ranking and use them to judge the change over the next 1,500 days. This is the challenge for the government – not the CRTC – and the clock is running.


  1. Too little, too late
    1500 days to do 5Mbps? When the rest of the world will have 1Gbps?

  2. Annette Demers says:

    Join the Internet Access Movement

  3. fedupcanuck says:

    So far all the Canadian government has done is talked and talk is cheap. With a majority governement they have no excuse other than inaction. Mr Clement lets see some actions.

  4. Too Little – Too Slow – Too Late
    The 5Mbps target is woefully low – considering places like South Korea already have 15Mbps – and by the time 2015 rolls around 5Mbps will seem like dial-up compared to where the rest of the world is heading. 1Gbps is a more desirable (and achievable) target but only, of course, if the Cable and Telco monopolies in Canada get out the way and stop impeding development & deployment just so they can wring every last nickel out of consumers and desperately attempt to retain their exclusive position as gatekeepers of content.

    The potential revenues of industries which can evolve from increased bandwidth (and access) far outstrip the limited opportunities the existing monopolists cling to. Time to stop playing favourites with the established cheats and thieves of Canada’s telecommunications industry – set realistic and achievable targets for speed and access – and let the true marketplace of the internet expand and explode as it should.

    Will they do this? Of course not. Because a small group of greedy and powerful people will continue to hold sway over government policy whilst the rest of the world speeds by.

    I hold no hope nor faith in the ability or will of the current majority government to ever do what is right for the Canadian people and the internet industries they are capable of innovating.

  5. 1080p by 2015? Not with 5Mbps.
    You would think that a minimum acceptable goal for 2015 would be the ability to stream 1080p video. This is something that many people already do today on YouTube and Netflix (PS3 only), so you’d think that four years from now it would be even more commonplace.

    5Mbps is not enough to do 1080p. It’s enough for 720p (barely), but for 1080p you’re going to require at least 10Mbps.

  6. Cooperative Fibre
    When the mighty refuse to live up to their obligations (in exchange for market control), we can always work around them. I’d chip in for my share in my neighborhood.

  7. Rural
    I don’t know — I think 5 Mbps to Tuktoyaktak and the outskirts of Chibougamau is going to be a pretty big accomplishment, actually. You do understand that the CRTC decision was about a baseline for services to remote corners, not urban areas, right?

  8. 5Mbps everywhere people
    this ruling isn’t looking for 5Mbps in the 416 but EVERYWHERE. How will you get those speeds into remote regions of Canada? Communities that are 400km from anywhere else, fibre is not an option to these sites. Wireless would be very difficult and costly.That leaves satellite service only and 5Mbps satellite is crazy expensive and subject to limiting fair use policies.
    This will be a HUGE challenge to reach those speeds in many areas

  9. ScytheNoire says:

    Wireless can do it
    That’s not a challenge to do, it can easily be done with wireless. And considering the insane amount they will charge people for it, what’s the point? If they really wanted a challenge, how about having Canada ranked in the top ten for ratings, not 34th.

  10. Anyone expecting the Conservatives – the only party without an internet platform, the only party to ignore OpenMedia’s survey, the only party who gets huge amounts of funding from Rogers and Bell and TELUS – to take action is completely delusional. Harper will do nothing other than strengthen the big telecoms at the expense of consumers. And he’s got no opposition with power to encourage him to act. Canada will lag further and further behind. In 1,500 days, we’ll all be paying hundreds a month for service that’s barely faster than a steam engine, while the rest of the world sails past us and reaps the economic benefits. Shame on you, Canadians, for giving this government a majority.

  11. J. Van Leeuwen, Alberta says:

    Wireless can’t do it.
    Only fibre will keep us in the game – it’s an economic development imperative, especially for rural Canada.

    Over 98% of the homes and businesses in this country are served by road networks, telephone networks and electricity networks.

    Fibre is an essential economic utility, and the only question that matters is how we’re going to get it built.

    The only question for industry is how they’re going to help us get it built.

    Lead, follow, get out of the way, or become road kill. So far, they seem determined to become road kill.

    “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.” (Norman Vincent Peale)

  12. And then there’s the minuscule data caps…
    A Rogers 15 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up link has a theoretical capacity of 5133 GB/month. But Rogers caps it at 80 GB, or 1.6% of capacity, while paying a whopping $60. If I max out my data cap, then data costs me 75¢/GB with an egregious $1.50/GB over the cap. What was Mr. Geist’s estimate on actual cost? 8¢/GB?

    What really needs to be capped is the outrageous profits of the telecartels.

    FIne, so rural areas get 5 Mbps service. What good is that going to do them when their cap will be 15 GB at $40/month? No Netflix or cloud-based backup for them.

  13. J. Van Leeuwen, Alberta says:

    Oepn access fibre
    I meant to say “Only *open access* fibre will keep us in the game.

    Open networks are the 21st century what opne roads were to the 20th.

    Here’s some food for thought:'s-impact-on-economic-development-the-real-deal

    It’s a survey of 300 economic development professionals in the U.S.

    Over 90% say the FCC’s target of universal 4 Mb/s is a joke… they could not meet even the most basic economic development objectives if this were all they had to offer.

    Over 50% believe that within three years, affordable 100 Mb/s access (= fibre) will be essential to meeting basic economic development objectives. The rest think it will take a bit longer for it to become essential, but none of them question whether it will become essential.

    We have to change the conversation in Canada. Emphasis on the word WE.

  14. Crockett says:

    Hey, government dude keeps track of this blog … pay attention!
    Along with the rest of you I am fearful of the direction the Conservatives will take in this mandate. They do have a choice of acting in the normal political fashion and reward their financial backers, in this case Rogers/Shaw/etc.

    One wonders though, with the huge shift in the political landscape, if they will try to broaden their appeal and speak to the large amount of non-traditional conservatives that gave them a majority Monday night. They must be looking at the huge number of seats they gained in the GTO and at the unprecedented freedom to govern without the demanding cries of Quebec.

    Canadians, weary from dithering minority mandates, have given Harper a chance to prove he can govern in their interests. So they must be cautious, giving into their core ideology will guarantee they will never become Canada’s new ‘natural governing party’.

    Digital issues have, at last, become a topic in the public awareness. If things continue as they have been we will wind up with an expensive poor digital infrastructure managed by a few greedy uninnovative conglomerates. That will not bode well for any parties political future.

  15. Jean-Francois Mezei says:

    A real national boradband plan requires the government implement a clear vision with real funding.

    The Australian experience, while perhaps not directly applicable to Canada (or perhaps it can/should), is a very good example of the deabte Canada should have started 4 years ago.

    A good documentary on the australian plan : (4 corners, from ABC (Australia). The “worse case” scenario in Australia is 12mbps to the remotest of farms (called “stations” down under).

    The CRTC isn’t empowered to do real policies, it is only good for short term study of some tariff that tries to squeeze more money from consumers.

    We don’t need the CRTC to tell us what whe should hope for, we need the government to IMPLEMNENT a real plan now.

    Considering that the CRTC’s “hope” is already well below what other nations plan to provide to remote regions, it lacks real vision.

    When John A MacDonald set out to build a trans continental railway, he didn’t just say “we should have one”, he found the money and told CP Rail to build it.

  16. No Netflix or cloud-based backup for them.
    But isn’t really the point of the caps. They scream piracy as a reason, but it’s really to keep people subscribed to Shaw, Bell and Telus. If I had no cap or a very high cap, I would cancel my Bell satellite subscription and perhaps even my land-line phone and do everything over the Internet with streaming and an IP phone. Even if I paid twice as much for my Internet, it would save me well over $100/mo. THIS is what the data caps are really all about…keeping us in to multiple contracts. Like in the UK, at some point, someone will wake up and realize the big providers are in a conflict of interest when serving both the architecture and the content. The big providers should collectively be brought up on antitrust charges and split up.

    “Over 90% say the FCC’s target of universal 4 Mb/s is a joke… they could not meet even the most basic economic development objectives if this were all they had to offer.”

    A mandate of 4Mb/s. That is a joke, considering the world standard has long since surpassed that. That’s what I get at home now on wireless and I can barely use Youtube, usually opting to download the video to watch off-line since streaming is so painfully slow. In 5 years, if I have the same architecture, my Internet will be worth nothing more than browsing the Internet…slowly.

    Keeping the country in the dark ages, technologically speaking, allows the big providers to charge top dollar for CHEAP, substandard services, thus maximizing profit. Really, they can buy 10-15 year old hardware for next to nothing and provide the same level of service we see today. In fact the uncapped 6mb/s Internet connection I had 10 YEARS AGO, for $29.99/mo was not much slower that one I can get today for TWICE what I was paying back in 2000. Why? If they increase the speed, with all the streaming options these days, people will burn through their bandwidth faster, and expect higher caps or to have them removed altogether…then there’s nothing to stop us from jumping to other services. They keep us in the dark-ages to keep us subscribed…period!!!

    Consider this, if there really are any government officials reading, the CRTC calls services like Netflix “over-the-top” services and would like to legislate them out of the country. REALLY, can a service be considered “over-the-top” when it’s quickly becoming the global norm. Within 2 to 5 years I estimate Netflix, PS3, XBox, , iTunes, YouTube, and similar on-demand-delivered content will be the primary mode of entertainment delivery for most industrialized nations in the world…where does that leave us?

  17. No Netflix or cloud-based backup for them.
    Sorry, that should have read, “But isn’t that really the point of the caps.”

  18. Oh For God’s Sake CRTC
    What the hell do Canadians pay these useless tits that sit on the CRTC for?

    If the CRTC is not prepared to make real decisions and instead stay in this perpetual study mode I say let’s just get rid of it all together and establish a regulatory system for telcos and ISPs that works.

    The CRTC is well beyond laughable. Get rid of it! NOW!

  19. William Hillier says:

    Canadian telecom prices have been rising since 2006 all the while prices in the UK and other countries have been falling, WHY. We have been waiting since 2006 for the Government’s policy direction to have a real positive effect, it has only resulted in higher prices and stunted innovation. How long must we wait before the government takes action to correct the situation?
    “Competition means lower internet bills Ofcom (UK), the equivlent to the CRTC reported, last quarter of 2005 consumers paying $36.50 CADmo Today $20.85CADmo…Prices in Canada have been rising since the government’s 2006 policy direction for the CRTC to rely on market forces when making decisions and yes the telecom profits rose substanially too! Instead of self regulation in the retail market, the telecoms were overtaken with greed!”

    What TRUE competition and “Market Forces” brings to the consumer.
    UK, Orange, 20Mbps , Unlimited, $23.48 CAD.
    France, Orange, 8Mbps, Unlimited, 28.42 CAD.
    France, SFR, 20Mbps, Unlimited, 21.68 CAD.
    Romania, Adnet telecom, 10Mbps, Unlimited, 29.13 CAD.
    Italy, Libero, 7 MMbps, unlimited, 26.99 CAD.
    Japan, OCN, 12Mbs, Unlimited, 25.22 CAD.
    Russia, AKADO-Stolitsa JSC), 20Mbps, Unlimited, 25.00 CAD.
    Netherlands, Online, 4Mbps, Unlimited, $24,04 CAD.
    Netherlands, Online, 20Mbps, Unlimited, $30.88 CAD.
    Netherlands, KPN, 8Mbps, Unlimited, $34.33 CAD.
    Netherlands, XS4ALL, 8Mbps, Unlimited, $41.13 CAD.
    Romania 50 Mbps, Unlimited, $9.56 100 Mbps, Unlimited, $12.86 (incl. VAT) CAD

  20. Why not skip the fed/prov gov and try to convince at the municipal/population level then ask deb/prov to interconnect (multiple paths and redundancy) .
    Each municipality will have it’s own net … you can even charge rogers/bell to use them .. 😀

  21. 5Mbps may be an ok goal for remote places, but it would be nice to aim for something better (15-30Mbps) for urban areas.

  22. CountyDisconnect says:

    It isn’t about speed for me…
    …it’s about data caps. I’m running on Telus’ “mobile plan” (equivalent to Rogers Rocket Hub). 5GB cap limit before overage charges!?? I can’t BREATHE on the internet without going over. Not only that, but Telus blocks all incoming ports! I can’t set up an FTP server or pretty much any other useful service. I’ve hated every single ISP I’ve had since the late 90’s. They do NOT have a loyal customer…only one in chains.

  23. Cable broadband providers really have a monopoly when it comes to speeds over 5 megs in rural Canada. Telcos like Bell are stuck with sluggish DSL. Cable and fibre is the future not copper Telephone lines. We should stop picking on Bell. They have it hard enough competing with coaxial cable.

  24. Cable broadband providers virtually have a monopoly in rural Canada. Telcos like Bell have trouble even pushing 5 megs in rural Canada. Cable and DOCSIS 3 is the future not DSL. We should stop picking on Bell. They have it hard enough competing with lightning speed coaxial cable.

  25. Not enough says:

    Having 5Mbps/1Mbps available isn’t sufficient for 2015. Having it affordable and without low caps to all Canadian is what is missing here. As usual, CRTC’s not doing enough and left a big escape clause for the incumbents.

    Anyone could have any service right now if they don’t mind paying huge amount of money to do their own fibre installations.

  26. Mr. The End says:

    This is the end
    What is going to happen is that xplornet (Satalite internet) is going to be launched offering 10-meg internet with a 1-gig cap and 10$/gig over charges for 170$/month.

    Mark Goldberg will make millions, the CRTC mandate will have been achieved. Bell canada will still average 2.5-meg/320-K internet.

    End of story.

  27. says:

    credit card debt
    5mbs are good for those people located at urban cities, but how about for rural places like provinces or poor provinces?

  28. Rob McNicol says:

    I’ll take what I can get CRTC
    Out here in Rural New Brunswick, the provincial government wired us up with hispeed but no where near what the CRTC is calling for so I’m looking forward to it. Can’t even watch the 10 minute version of cbc headline videos and the commercial if in high quality….game over.

    Come on 2015

  29. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again
    The quiet collusion of the major players

    When the major ISPs (those controlling 90%+ of the market share) are also content providers and have vested interests in traditional television and video on demand subsciptions, you can bet your mother’s false teeth that they are trying anything and everything possible to protect their cash cows and avoid convergence as seen in other countries.

    Over the last 3~4 years they have been quietly colluding to protect these interests. Each one of the players that control the pipes and are also major content providers/BDUs have instituted the following: (oligopoly in most of the country)

    1) eliminated unlimited data transfer.

    2) introduced low data transfer caps for all their internet tiers.

    3) charge exorbitant per Gb overage fees comparative to actual costs (500~5000% markups)

    4) are continually reducing the cap size, and increasing the overage fees.

    5) selectively applied traffic management practices (throttle)

    All in an attempt to protect their other vested interests and at the same time monetize the heck out of the internet. This has been recently evidenced by statements made by all these players in there investor confrence calls “data is where we can increase ARPU”.

    It all boils down to wanting control of the internet itself. The fully open, unfettered, accessible internet we have come to know and love is slowly and quietly being taken over. The walled gardens are starting up again (as per examples with iphones and wireless devices) and are soon to creep into the hardwired services as well.

    The only way we can get proper competition is to force functional separation between access(the network) and service/content provider. The CRTC and the government of the day have bought into the incumbents vertical intergration scheme hook, line and sinker; while in many other countries, where functional separation has occured, competion has flourished, prices are reasonable and services are much better than here in Canada.

  30. @dakrew

    If you have proof of industry wide collusion and anti-competitive behaviour why are you telling your story on this blog instead of to the police?

  31. @Michael
    “The proof is in the pudding” as they say.

    Just as we all know that there is collusion in gas price fixing, the same has crept into broadband access. Activity in the recent past between Rogers and Bell in my area; as mentioned above, is all the proof the common unwashed such as myself need. It may not be enough for court action, but when one drops their caps from 60Gb to 25Gb for a certain tier, or raises maximum overage fees from $30 to $60 and the other incumbent follows suit; lowering their cap for a similar tier and raising their overages from $25 to $50, I call it collusion and not competition. When is the last time anyone has heard mention of a “price war” for anything in this country.

    The whole issue boils down to market and regulatory capture. The govnt of the day in 2006 gave the CRTC a directive to allow “market forces” to superceed industry regulation to the maximum extent possible. The incumbents are now reaping from what that directive has sown.

    The incumbents explain that they want/need to charge for data transfer just like a utility does, such as electricity or water. Fine, then the govnt of the day needs to designate broadband as an essential utility and regulate it as such. That is one thing the incumbents will never want.

    They want to “have their cake, and eat it too”.

  32. I trust you are aware that both Videotron and Telus both raised their caps between November and February so your suggestion of industry wide collusion isn’t supported by the facts.

    Your allegations of criminal behavior in the industry are extremely serious and if you truly believe them you should report this, along with your evidence, to the proper law enforcement authorities.

    Otherwise your comments fall into the category of “recreational complaining”. We all do it, it’s therapeutic and fun. But if you really believe you have sufficient evidence of criminal behaviour you have a moral duty to report it – at that point you have evolved from a “recreational” complainer to a “committed” complainer by taking the responsible next steps.

  33. thunderleg says:

    Basic internet services will be artificially crippled for a long, long time in Canada.

    However, take a speed test of the same providers Internet TV connection, both download and upload. That’s the speed they can actually provide for basic internet, but won’t. The Big Corps absolutely won’t permit such speeds for non-TV use.

  34. thunderleg says:

    Oh, and my internet bill was increased again this month with nothing to show why. No improvements of any sort.

    Two increases this year so far, and a shrunken monthly cap too.

    Thanks, Shaw! I’ll be dumping you when I move in a few months!

  35. @thunderleg

    Shaw is famous for increasing their prices while reducing their service, that’s why I moved to Telus 3 years ago.

    The fastest service they offer is 25 Mbps and it is available to both their TV and non-TV customers. You should check it out.

    They have a half dozen different packages to choose from. I’m on a middle of the road package with a 125 GB cap which more than meets my needs but I know they would be happy to upsell me to a faster package – heck they usually call me once or twice a year to try. I rarely hit 30 GB per month so I’ve got tons of extra room.

  36. thunderleg says:


    This is not possible.

    With the intense “competition” in my province, there is no Telus. There are only two high-speed internet providers, and they are both identical in pricing and offerings and are in an intense race to the bottom. Neither one is Teksavvy, or I’d switch faster than you could blink.

    It’s almost to the point where my cellphone would provide my PC with faster internet, and might even cost less too. The upload speeds would definitely be faster. If only it had an RJ45 port.

  37. @thunderleg

    Sorry to hear that. Here in Alberta the competition between Shaw and Telus is very intense. Telus has a TV service that is absolutely fantastic – superb picture quality, more HD channels and a very cool PVR that you can program from your iPhone and watch from any TV in your house. Shaw hasn’t really done anything to their TV service in years except raise the price every year. I saw a report in the Globe a while back that said Shaw was taking a SH** kicking from Telus on the TV front.

  38. I can’t get Shaw, Telus, or Bell high speed. I have to use wireless with a 60G/mo hard cap (My Internet stops working if exceed this). This is the largest package I can buy and while it’s sufficiently fast for most things, it’ll never stream effectively. Anything bigger than the smallest video size on Youtube, it can’t handle. Part of that is because I don’t have directly line of sight to the tower so I can;t upgrade my radio. Regardless. They have their own architecture and do not rent line space from any of the big providers (I asked), so why do they follow the same model as everyone else. They charge $20/mo more in rural areas than in town, for the same service, shooting off the same tower. I asked them why and they outright told me, because they can. At least they were honest.