Digital Canada 150: Why Canada’s Universal Broadband Goal is Among the Least Ambitious in the OECD

The release of Digital Canada 150, the federal government’s long-awaited digital strategy, included a clear connectivity goal: 98 percent access to 5 Mbps download speeds by 2019. While the government promises to spend $305 million on rural broadband over the next five years and touts the goal as “a rate that enables e-commerce, high-resolution video, employment opportunities and distance education”, the reality is that Canada now has one of the least ambitious connectivity goals in the developed world.

Just how badly does the government’s connectivity ambitions compare to other OECD countries? Consider just some of the target speeds from other countries as compiled three years ago by the OECD:

Target Year
Target Speed
Austria 2013 100% access to 25 Mbps
Australia 2021 100% premises, 93% homes, schools and business to 100 Mbps
Denmark 2020 100% access to 100 Mbps
Finland 2015 99% within 2 km of network permitting 100 Mbps
Germany 2014 75% access to 50 Mbps
Greece 2017 100% household access to 100 Mbps
Hungary 2020 100% access to 30 Mbps
Luxembourg 2020 100% access to 1 Gbps
Slovak Republic 2020 100% access to 30 Mbps
Sweden 2020 90% access to 100 Mbps
United States 2020 100% access to 4 Mbps

Not only is the target speed low compared to many other countries (the U.S. being the notable exception), but the goal of universal broadband access comes years after other countries put similar policies into place. For example, other countries with universal access targets include:

Universal Access Target Year
Chile 2018
Czech Republic 2015 (rural speeds at least 50% of city speeds)
France 2012
Iceland 2007
Italy 2012
Japan 2015
Norway 2007
Portugal 2012
Spain 2011
Switzerland 2008
United Kingdom 2015

The Canadian target of 2019 is later than all of these countries, some by more than a decade.  In fact, the government’s target date is far later than the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which set a 2015 deadline with the same speed goal. Unfortunately, the lack of ambition is not limited to connectivity. More on how the Canadian digital strategy pales in comparison to peer countries by largely omitting key issues such as affordability, education, tele-health, and energy in a post tomorrow.



  1. Density
    Dear Mr. Geist,

    How would Canada huge geography and low population density affect the costs and feasibility of achieving the same targets as other countries?

  2. Why would our geography matter? It hasn’t been a deterrent to other communications projects. Phones are all over. Roads go everywhere. Originally, the railroad managed well too. Interestingly, the railroad got mostly taken out. I’m reminded that the world’s most expensive railway, which we had where I live, was gleefully destroyed to make way for ultimately more expensive (but beneficial to US interests) ways of moving goods. Now in 2014 can we not afford to roll out a communications infrastructure who’s basic material costs 25 cents per foot?

  3. re Density
    The population density argument is often trotted out, and it is true that our mean density is very low. However Canada is very urbanized, roughly on par with or substantially higher than the countries listed. Most of us live in a small number of large cities (huddled together for warmth). So while it might take some effort to bring broadband to the small number of highly dispersed rural inhabitants, there is no reason why the majority of us are not already enjoying the kind of bandwidth available to citizens of South Korea and Hong Kong.

    Unfortunately I do not see this situation improving until we can start talking about a more nuanced target of median bandwidth or minimum for certain percentile.

  4. leadership means risk
    Harper is risk-averse, at least when it comes to things he doesn’t care about (the country, the people), rather than his own power. In this case, he’s proposing a broadband goal that perfectly suits the suits in the corporate suites – just enough downstream bandwidth to permit profitable media consumption. This is riskless because it’s what our benevolent ISP monopolists would like to build anyway. The pipe perfect to deliver end-to-end DRMed content for a nice fat monthly fee. Notice that the report doesn’t mention net-neutrality…

    Actual humans want dumb-fat pipes.

  5. Urbanization myth?
    How is urbanization relevant? It’s still 5000 km from Vancouver to Quebec City. And how is urbanization relevant when talking about rural connectivity?

  6. urbanization does matter. They could have proposed a speed of 25 or 100 for urban centers and lower for non urban. That is set a higher target goal for and a min acceptable speed. Instead they set the target goal to the min speed.

  7. This is Why it Will Never Happen in Canada
    Lots of talk, talk, talk and excuses rather than “Let’s Just Do It!”

  8. Telecomm Guru
    Canada once was a leader in Broadband. For about 15 years we have been going the wrong way. Lets put the blame on the various Federal Govenment political adgenda’s and the CRTC. Yes we are falling way behind Korea has massive amount of 1 Gig offering for aroun the same price as what Canadaian pay for High Speed.
    We do have a geographical and narrow population band problem and vast under served areas. Techology is expensive to deploy and the ROI is much shorter due to newer destructive techologies with faster speeds. Same issue when it comes to Cell phones in Canada, 35 Million people, 26 million subscribers only enough business to support 3 National providers, a fourth is a nice to have but needs 3.2 million customers just to survive the capital cost outlay. Maybe if we de-regulate, get rid of CRTC and bad Government policy we could get faster broadband a cheaper rate. But NOT in CANADA for everyone that lives in RURAL areas.

  9. And this is a surprise?
    Harper isn’t about serving Canadians.

    Harper is all about serving Big Business.

    Anyone want to bet that the white stuff he wipes off his chin after every meeting with his true constituancy isn’t vanilla ice cream?

  10. Australia just lost our awesome rollout
    We just elected a harper like PM and party over here and now we are looking at up to 25Mb/s on a good day maybe

  11. Where’s the 2019 reference from?
    I’m trying to find the source of the 2019 target. The feds haven’t put out anything solid that I can find (just that 25-page self-congratulatory promo, where all references seem to be to 2017.)