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State of Broadband Infrastructure: Lagging or Leading?

Mark Goldberg

I have found a disturbing lack of context in respect of some reports examining the state of Canada's telecommunications industry, especially those that have cited various OECD studies released over the past few months.

It has become increasingly clear that the OECD's analysis is flawed.

The failure by so many to analyse the data appears to confirm what President Barack Obama said recently in a newspaper interview:

I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.

Countless statistics and rankings have been developed regarding the state of broadband networks in countries around the world. Yet, the sum total of all this work may have clouded the issues and caused confusion among policymakers and other stakeholders.

Canada is no exception. While some paint a picture of crisis, others argue that Canada has enviable broadband infrastructure and is well-positioned for the future, despite facing unique geographic challenges.

One matter that is uncontested is that the stakes are high. Countries around the world see information and communication technologies (ICTs) like broadband as key to their economic futures. In Canada, as in other countries, these issues are important to the economic present as well. Canadian telcos, cablecos and wireless providers invest between $8B and $10B each year in advanced communications infrastructure. These investments support $54B in revenues and provide jobs to more than 140 thousand Canadians.

ICT policy sets an enabling foundation for Canada's participation in a global knowledge-based economy.

A group representing Canada's largest internet service providers commissioned my firm to study the issue. We have released a report [PDF, 944KB] that seeks to clarify the facts, dispel myths and provide the analysis needed to constructively move the issues forward and facilitate a more informed debate.

The report concludes that Canadians benefit from a robust, diversified broadband infrastructure. All Canadians who want to subscribe and pay for broadband can obtain service. We have 100% availability when you consider all the technology choices available. The vast majority of Canadians benefit from a world-leading level of choice in access to broadband technologies, using twisted pair, coaxial cable, wireless (fixed and mobile) and satellite.

Moreover, Canadians have access to some of the most affordable services, while also benefiting from some of the world's fastest connection speeds for both wireline and wireless broadband services.

In terms of adoption, Canada continues to lead all G-8 countries in adoption of internet services, and ranks in the top ten for most international comparisons on broadband penetration and speeds, contradicting last week's student project from the Said School of Business at Oxford.

With almost 70% of Canadian households already subscribing, there remains a significant opportunity to expand broadband adoption even further.

The report recommends:

  • As we go through the process of developing a national ICT strategy, recognize the true state of Canada's ICT infrastructure
  • Continue policies focused on fostering facilities-based competition
  • Build on the past success of private sector investment by removing current policy and regulatory uncertainty regarding investments in next-generation networks
  • Shift more attention to adoption issues (including adoption of next-generation services) and encourage socio-economic research focused on better understanding the obstacles to, and inhibitors of, broadband adoption
  • Consider programmes to improve digital literacy and the use of incentives (tax-based or otherwise) to target and overcome any barriers to broadband adoption

The full report provides the context to enable a better understanding and discussion of the issues for expanding broadband in Canada.

By Mark Goldberg, Telecommunications Consultant
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