Digital Canada

A wave of spending is about to take place pretty much all round the globe, and some of that money will be directed to improving “infrastructure,” the underpinnings required for businesses and individuals to prosper. A portion of infrastructure spending will, in many places, be devoted to bettering the internet and our access to it, typically described as improving “broadband” access.

The recent federal budget made scant mention of this as a goal:

The Government will advance Canada’s knowledge advantage by:

…Providing $225 million over three years to develop and implement a strategy on extending broadband coverage to unserved communities.

Extending coverage widely is important, no doubt, particularly in a sparsely populated country like Canada. But equally — some would argue, more — important is increasing broadband capacity, i.e. speed, in the urban areas where the information industries are located. On this latter measure Canada is poorly served at the moment by comparison with other developed nations. Less than a year ago a report by the Oxford Saïd Business School, according to the CBC story, found that:

Canada is woefully positioned for future internet usage and the quality of current broadband networks is barely enough to cope with current traffic because of a lack of investment by providers… [and is] is below the global broadband quality threshold, which measures the proliferation of high-speed internet in a country, as well as the speeds available and the reliability of connections.

Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania scored better than Canada. (The CBC story is worth reading, because it sets out in some detail our deteriorating position.)

Here was, and may still be, a real opportunity to turn a crisis into an advantage, not merely to pull ourselves up somewhat, but to go ahead with the latest and best technology, which, we know for certain, is going to be essential in the near future. And all we get is a weak promise of a comparatively small amount of money.

Interestingly, Britain today released the Lord Carter’s interim report, Digital Britain (PDF and Word [!] — no HTML), which dealt in part with improving digital access. To coincide with this, the Prime Minister gave a speech pointing out the importance of the digital network linking us all. However, the Carter Report promised universal access by 2012 but only broadband speeds of “up to” 2Mbps. Evidently, according to the Guardian critiques of the Report, Britain’s current average access speed is 3.6Mbps — though only 40% of houses have broadband access at all.

Some governments just aren’t getting it.


  1. I agree. I get envious every time I see a Verizon Fios ad on a US TV station. Canada was an early leader in communications technology, but we are falling behind, and that’s not good.

  2. I’m not certain that letting the rural areas lag even further behind is doing us any good, though. As a government employee, we’d love to be able to deliver service through the web, but we are ever mindful of the fact that some of our stakeholders are still relying on dialup.

  3. Simon:

    Could it be that the providers have let the infrastructure lag in order to bolster their argument for internet throttling and charging for priority access? After all, why not be able to charge $ for upgrades that in a competitive economy they would be required to invest to avoid losing customers.

    I agree that we should be building one of the best broadband networks in the world – but any government funds should carry a requirement that no throttling should be imposed – to anyone. Public money = public access.