The Future of Internet Access in Canada

At the end of November 2014, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) held a nine-day hearing discussing the future of fibre infrastructure throughout the country, which is basically the future of Internet access for all Canadians.

The main focus of the hearing was to discuss whether or not independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should have access to the incumbents’ fibre infrastructure. The top five providers in Canada are Bell, Rogers, Quebecor, Shaw, and Telus, and they have one reason why granting fibre access to smaller ISPs shouldn’t be allowed: The top five are the only providers with the means to develop fibre networks and they believe that if other independent ISPs have access to the technology, it will serve as a disincentive for investors. While open access may be a disincentive for investors, it will benefit the millions of Canadian households and businesses currently struggling with over-priced, low-speed Internet.

We are still awaiting news as to what was decided at the meetings, but here are a few things that were probably discussed during the hearing:

While fibre-to-the-home is rare in Canada, fibre-to-the-node (neighbourhood) is actually accessible by over 12 million households. Unfortunately, this service is so expensive that only 3% of Canadians even subscribe to it. In fact, only 5% of Canadians are subscribed to speeds higher than 50 mbps! The majority of Canadians (32.8%) operate on speeds of 5 to 9 mbps.

Out of the top 33 countries with high-speed Internet services, Canada comes in 22nd for high-speed Internet subscriptions…behind Poland, Spain, and Mexico. The top three countries are Japan, Korea, and Sweden. In Japan, 70% of users subscribe to fibre broadband and only pay an average of $49 a month for connection speeds reaching 1 gbps. In Canada, we pay around five times that amount for one-third the speed!

In order for fibre broadband to be a realistic option for the majority of Canada, independent ISPs need access to the services and technology. The more ISPs there are offering fibre services, the more affordable it will become. If the CRTC decides that the incumbents don’t need to make their next generation services available to other ISPs, then Canadians will continue to operate on slower, more expensive connection speeds.

Stay tuned – we hope to hear more about the CRTC hearing soon.