Harvard calls Canada

 

Another international broadband study has slammed Canada’s performance in spreading high speed connectivity to the nation.

The Harvard University report for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which regulates carriers, noted that this country is “often thought of as a very high performer” because of the large number of broadband service subscribers.

However, it added, considering the high fees we pay compared to other countries, the speeds Internet service providers offer and the relatively low percentage of people who have 3G wireless service, Canada is “quite a weak performer, overall.”

By its calculations, as of July Canada placed 25th out of 30 countries studied in terms of pricing, 20th in terms of online speeds and 16th in terms of broadband penetration.

[Since July, however, cable companies here have been increasingly offering faster Internet download speeds of up to 50Mpbs.]

Overall, the leaders are Japan, Sweden, Denmark and South Korea. In its rankings, Canada placed 22nd overall, behind New Zealand, Spain and Austria.

The U.S., it added, is a “middle-of-the-pack performer” and placed 13th overall.

At the same time, the report says North American-style deregulation, which allows incumbent phone and cable companies to keep monopolies on some service, hasn’t resulted in increased competition.

In fact, it’s done the opposite. So, for example, rather than rush west to compete with Telus, Bell Canada has remained focused on Ontario and Quebec. There are numerous independent Internet service providers, the report notes, but they have small market share.

Another result is that of the 13 providers that charged the highest rates for the lowest online speeds, 11 came from the U.S. and Canada.

By contrast, providers in countries where regulators give providers open access to communications facilities – such as Japan, France, Sweden, South Korea and Finland – offer the lowest prices for the fastest speeds.

The reason, it concluded, is that open access has encouraged new entrants.

The report used speed and subscription fee figures for providers outside the U.S. from March. Figures for providers from the U.S. were more recent. The report admits that would have skewed results favourably to American carriers. Still, it didn’t improve the overall U.S. standing.

The goal of the report, by Harvard’s Berkman Centre for the Internet and Society, was to look at the effects of telecom regulation and de-regulation in a number of developed countries on broadband adoption to see what lessons the U.S. can learn.  

It used data from a number of sources, including studies from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that have been criticized by two Canadian telecommunications consultants, Mark Goldberg, who heads a firm with his name, and Iain Grant of SeaBoard Group.

That’s why the Berman study was immediately dismissed Goldberg, who authored a study this month on behalf of a number of Canadian phone and cable companies arguing our broadband performance is better than the OECD found.

While the Berkman study did find a number of flaws in the OECD report, Goldberg said, it repeated others.

“The researchers failed to look at the [OECD] data,” he said, “and as result reproduced the same problems as the OECD because their price-performance metrics for Canada are based on the same extremely small, invalid sample of advertised [Canadian Internet price] offers.”

However, Grant said methodology of the Harvard study is “much better” than the OECD report. In fact, he said, the new study proves that Canada has fallen “from a leader to a laggard” in broadband speeds and pricing.

He acknowleged that the Berkman study doesn’t reflect recent Canadian changes, such as the begining of Rogers Communications’ wireless HSPA Plus service.

The Berkman study admitted that pulling out comparative data on pricing is difficult because providers price services in different ways – some offer bundles with television or home phone service, for example. Some have data caps, others don’t. And all offer different tiers of service. So to get an average, Berkman researchers created a database of their own based on the pricing of plans from the top four providers in each country. It also rejected plans that have download caps of 2 Gigabytes or less.

Separately, providers and countries were also ranked on how much value they offered in their low, medium and high speed services.

Denmark, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden all reside in the top ten in both

data sets for the low speed tier. Denmark, Italy, Greece, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and theUnited Kingdom were all in the top ten for the medium speed tier. Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom were the strong performers in the high speed tier.

Sometimes, the Berkman study admitted, its rankings differed from the OECD and a similar study by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). That reflect the difficulty of getting good price estimates, it said, emphasizing the need for better reporting.