Report dismisses claims Canada lags in broadband


Canada isn’t that far behind the rest of the world in providing affordable broadband to the majority of its populace, says a report funded by some of the country’s biggest telcos and cable companies.

The report, by Thornhill, Ont.-based telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, isn’t a source of any new statistics, but instead attacks a number of studies from groups, particularly the Organization of Economic Development and Co-Operation (OECD) that say this country is not among the leaders.

“Any informed person who examined the studies that say things are bad [here] realizes those studies are flawed,” Goldberg said in an interview. “You don’t have to dig very deep on the OCED study to see how inaccurate it is.”

In its most recent survey, released in June, the OCED ranked Canada in 10th place in broadband subscribers, behind Luxembourg and Finland.

However, Goldberg argues that report, which compared a number of nations and their advertised data speeds and prices up to December, 2008, is unreliable for several reasons.

One is deciding to compare countries by the number of subscribers per 100 inhabitants, he argued. That favours households with an average of smaller families than Canada he argued. A better measure would be the number of Internet connections per household. Studies done that way rank Canada as high as fifth.

In addition, Goldberg complained, when calculating each country’s broadband speeds and fees, for Canada the June OECD report only looked at advertised rates from telcos. As a result, it missed the faster speeds offered by some cable companies.

Why telcos and cablecos care about these studies can be gleaned from the executive summary of Goldberg’s report, which essentially complains that the media quotes them, after which politicians “run the risk of acting on the limited view provided by those few figures.”

Goldberg, like many telcos and cable companies, points out that wireline, wireless and satellite broadband is available to most of the country and most subscribers have a choice of more than one provider. Cable companies such as Quebec’s Videotron and Western Canada’s Shaw Communications have started rolling out 100 Mbps service, while Bell Aliant is testing fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), which can offer comparable DSL speeds, in Fredericton, N.B.

Supply isn’t a problem, Goldberg argued. But something else is: Only 70 per cent of households are signed up for broadband. Why, he asked are 30 per cent of Canadian households not on the Internet?

This, he said is what Canadian leaders should be studying, rather than ways to regulate the industry.

The report didn’t impress Iain Grant, managing director of SeaBoard Group, a Montreal-based telecommunications consultancy who is among those who think this country lags in broadband innovation. He agrees with Goldberg’s unhappiness with the OCED’s methodologies.

But he also believes that in some parts of the country the cable companies aren’t taking advantage of their technological ability to overwhelm phone companies. For example, he argued, in Ontario and Quebec cableco Rogers Communications is satisfied with providing Internet speeds of up to 50Mpbs, rather than “boost speeds and embarrass Bell.

Videotron flirted in trials with 100Mpbs before settling for a 50Mbps service now being rolled out.

However, Grant added, Videotron is offering better pricing than its older service while tripling the download capacity limit.

“Videotron is much more focused on making life uncomfortable for Bell,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, Shaw “seemed happy enough to match Telus DSL capability” in Western Canada until recently, when it began 100Mbps service.

Recognition of this lack of competition – although Grant acknowledged that’s starting to change – is what’s missing from Goldberg’s report, he said.

The Goldberg report was funded by Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications, Telus Corp., Cogeco Cable and SaskTel.


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