OECD Report Ranks Canada Among Most Expensive Broadband Countries

The OECD has released its latest round of data on broadband services in 33 of the world’s most developed countries [update: While today’s release is new and incorporates this information into the OECD Communications Outlook 2011, a reader points out the broadband data was first released two months ago]. While there will be the usual attempts to downplay the data, the OECD findings once again confirm that Canadians pay more for broadband services than consumers in most other developed countries. Consider the average monthly subscription price in three of the most common speed bands:

  • 2.5 to 15 Mbps – Canada ranks 28th out of 33 countries (the survey covered eight different Canadian plans)
  • 15 – 30 Mbps – Canada ranked 29th out of 33 countries (the survey covered four Canadian plans)
  • Faster than 45 Mbps – Canada ranked 23rd out of 28 countries (the survey covered three Canadian plans)

In addition to the OECD tracked the range of pricing per megabit – Canada ranked 28th there too. Moreover, Canada remained one of the only countries with universal data caps as all plans reviewed by the OECD included an explicit bit cap (the only similar countries were Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand – all far more isolated than Canada).

The OECD also tracked broadband subscriptions. Canada ranked 13th for wired broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and 23rd for wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. This data was supplied by the Canadian government.

The results are unmistakable – Canada remains a laggard when it comes to broadband services with a middling ranking in overall broadband subscriptions and one of the poorest rankings based on price at all the most common speeds. The OECD data covers Canada’s largest ISPs including Bell, Rogers, and Shaw, meaning it accounts for a sizable chunk of the overall subscriber market (particularly in Ontario, where the data covers the overwhelming majority of subscribers). The incumbent providers will trot out the excuses (geography, limited sampling, etc.), but the data speaks for itself, telling a troubling story of high prices that will leave many Canadians wondering whether we will ever see a more competitive broadband market.  


  1. wtf
    this is sad and pathetic. im really starting to feel like i dont want to be a canadian anymore.

  2. Something wonky with OECD broadband data. OECD says Canada is 10th best (tied with Norway) for average download speeds beating most of the countries that supposedly have better prices for higher speed services.

    That suggests that access to those higher speed services is either severely limited or consumers aren’t buying them – otherwise their average download speeds should beat Canada.

  3. Even so, the telling figures are in the price and the caps. Most people I know would happily pay the current price, which is still vastly higher than most countries, if there were no data caps. But we’re paying way more than most of the rest of the world for a service that would be considered sub-entry-level in most countries.

    When Shaw announced their new data plans, I e-mailed my ISP and asked if they had similar plans to increase caps, citing the Shaw decision as well as the original OECD report. No answer was the bold reply. If I had any options other than my current company, with the exception of XPlorNet, I would leave them. Even Telus dial-up is better than XPlorNet.

  4. Was anyone able to see
    the FAQs associated with the information? I tried and couldn’t get to it. What I was trying to find out was how many of the ISPs, if any, that were surveyed were considered to be publicly funded utilities. As far as raw numbers are concerned, the numbers are what they are… although the OECD also published numbers which included the line charge; in these Canada fared better by two or three positions. Still not great, but.

    For me I’d like to see a comparison of the price to the cost of living or average/median income. The comparisons are based on the price after a conversion to the US dollar. For instance, let’s say that country X pays 20% more for their ISP connectivity, however the average income is 50% higher, than country Y. In real terms, country X pays more, however, in terms of their income, country Y pays more.

    Now, all other things being equal, if the ISP in country X gets tax dollars to provide their service, then you also need to add some of the taxes paid by the subscribers to compare against a country where the ISP gets no public money. For instance, countries X and Y both have the same average income and in both cases the subscription price is $30 per month for the same service. In country X the ISP also gets tax money, to the tune of approximately $0.50 per subscriber, whereas in Y it doesn’t. The subscription price is the same, but which subscriber pays more for the internet access? That is the problem with a comparison of raw numbers like is presented. It tells part, but not all, of the story. The bits that are left out may in fact change the interpretation of the results.

  5. This is only bad if the Internet is important to business and communications
    Otherwise the CRTC is doing us all a great service by maintaining the oligopoly

  6. @IamME – I disagree. What is the point of having a cheaper price if it isn’t widely available? My condo in Toronto has had a 100Mbps service since 2002 for about $50 a month but obviously not many in Toronto can get it. If the OECD included my condo in their rankings, Canada would easily move to the top 5.

  7. Chris Bruner says:

    The Great Canadian Railway
    The Canadian railway was sponsored by the government of the time in order to tie Canada together from sea to sea. I think if the same philosophy was brought to broadband, we would see a surge of education, economic growth and development throughout all of Canada.

  8. RE: The Great Canadian Railway
    It’ll never happen until the oligopoly is dismantled and functional separation happens between service and content.

  9. Devil's Advocate says:

    Re: Great Canadian Railway

    Canada’s communications started out that way. Public money was used to build Bell’s telephone infrastructure, up until the “deregulation” placed the whole thing in Bell’s “ownership”.

  10. @Anon-K
    Your points are taken. We don’t really have enough information to extract that level of detail. Not an uncommon failing for such studies these days.

    But if the study is valid, it will be comparing “apples to apples” within the scope of it’s definition. From what I can see, this is true.
    What it purports to measure, it has measured fairly accurately. You have pointed out that it may not be measuring all the things you want.

    Such additional measurements may change the rankings somewhat, but I doubt it would be a significant change. Where do you think Canada should strive to be in these rankings?

  11. Jerk Store says:

    You don’t want to be Canadian because we pay a bit more for internet? Feel free to move to Iran.

  12. @ Jerk Store
    You are aptly named. ‘Nuff said.

    On topic, the same will happen as has in other industries…. the oligopolists are crying now “BAWWW! BAWWW! If we don’t have high rates, how can we make any money?” and the government buys it. Along comes competition. Prices drop by 1/3 to 1/2 and guess what? The old whiners are still posting double and triple digit profit gains.

    And the process will repeat again with another industry.

  13. Hmmm, just looked at the OECD report and it also says some very positive things about Canada. For example it says that Canada has the 6th highest investment per capita in telecom services and the 5th highest investment per access path.

    It also says we have above average wired broadband penetration, above average actual broadband speeds and above average wireless broadband speeds.

    As Mr. Geist said “the data speaks for itself” and when you look carefully at the report much of the data suggests Canada is in pretty good shape.

  14. Competition isn’t the problem. It’s high charges

  15. @Max – you should really take a look at the report yourself. It also says Canada has lower than average prices for fixed telephone and mobile telephone service. I couldn’t see a single country that is ranked best in all categories. I’m just saying that the report has some positive things to say about Canada that shouldn’t be ignored.

  16. Devil's Advocate says:

    Investment means nothing

    Investment figures only have relevance to the few at the top of the money ladder that are hoping to make profit from the scenario. Such data fails to cast any brighter light on the central focus of the report – the value the actual consumer gets for the buck.

    Speaking as a customer of Canadian telecom and internet services, all I see is..
    1) Exhorbitant rates, generously supplemented with extra “fees”
    2) Usage limitations
    3) Consumer lock-in
    4) Poor performance offerings
    5) Lack of any meaningful customer service mechanisms

  17. @Devil’s Advocate – strongly disagree. The folks at the top of the money ladder make more money if they withold investment and sweat their assets harder. Without significant investment we would all be making due with dial-up internet.

    The OECD report was a 400 page beast with no central focus at all. It touches on fixed and mobile telephone, broadband, and broadcasting. Overall Canada actually fares quite well in the report but if you are specifically looking for something negative you will find it. No one country is a star in all categories.

  18. Devil's Advocate says:

    Central Focus

    To clarify, by “central focus of this report”, I meant within the confines of the topic at hand, for the purposes of this discussion.

    As to what we would have without investment, Canadians remember where much of the initial investment came from, as the telecom infrastructure was built with public money.

  19. @Devil’s Advocate

    Actually very little, if any, of the telecom network in Canada was built with public money (i.e. taxes).

    You might be thinking of the regulated rate of return regime that was put in place in the early years of basic phone service to assure the telephone companies a return on their investment for building expanding basic phone service to rural and remote communities. The money actually came from urban Canadians who paid a premium on their service to subsidize the rural build out. It wasn’t funded by tax dollars.

    Also, consumer broadband networks have only been around a dozen or so years and they are not regulated by the CRTC nor were they build by the government. They were built using risk capital from shareholders of the companies that run them and expect a return on their investment. The feds coughed up $250 million in their stimulous package a couple of years ago but that was used to extend broadband into uneconomic communities and is hardly a drop in the bucket compared to what has been invested in broadband to date.