Skip to content

Budget stingy on broadband expansion

The Canadian Government announced it would allot $225-million over three years in January’s budget to help expand broadband Internet access to rural areas, but critics are saying that Canada’s plans fall behind other countries and that more money is needed.

On the same day the budget was released, University of Ottawa Professor Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, pointed out that the amount allocated for broadband expansion is lower than the $500-million over five years that the Conservatives promised during the election, and that other countries are far outpacing Canada.

“By comparison, the Australian government has committed AU$4.7-billion [CA$3.9-billion] to a similar initiative,” he wrote on his popular blog.

The U.S. is also outpacing Canada in expanding access. The stimulus bill that is still working its way through the U.S. Congress at different times has suggested between $3-billion and $9-billion for broadband development in under-served areas—the numbers changing as different versions of the bill are amended.

Canada is also languishing in the middle of the pack of developed countries. According to statistics compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada is behind all the Scandinavian countries, as well as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Korea, in access.

For example, Canada is tenth out of 30 OECD countries for broadband penetration — the number of subscribers per 100 inhabitants — and ranks eighth, with 64 per cent, when the percentage of households with broadband access is considered. On the other hand, Canada is the third-least dense country in the OECD, which makes laying high-speed lines expensive. But, if 90 per cent of the Canadian population lives within a thin band of about 160 kilometres from the U.S. border, and only 64 per cent of the population has access, what is the likelihood that this new funding will actually penetrate into very remote areas?

And the situation is more grim when speed and price are considered. The average advertised broadband speed in Canada is barely half the OECD average, and nine times less than Japan’s. Further, none of Canadian broadband connections are fibre optic cable, which has an advertised maximum of 128 MB/sec in Japan and 13 MB/sec in five other OECD countries – 15 to 150 times faster than the Canadian average.

Canadians also spend the fourth-most for broadband, given comparable purchasing power, with the average monthly price for 128 KB/sec of bandwidth being over US$28.

Nevertheless, the Information Technology Association of Canada, an umbrella organization representing companies that comprised 70 per cent of the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, believe that the budget allocation for broadband, while not everything that is needed, will help the economy in both the short and long term.

“This initiative will engage additional funding from other levels of government and the private sector to continue to expand Canada’s broadband network,” said the organization in a press release.