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Canada Sets Its Broadband Bar

5:45 PM -- Regulators in Canada have a national broadband plan of sorts underway, and they're shooting just a smidge higher than their neighbors south of the border. But whether any of the country's ISPs give a rip about that plan is another story.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced this week that it "expects" all Canadians to have access speeds to broadband speeds of at least 5Mbit/s downstream and 1Mbit/s upstream by the end of 2015. The important caveat is that it wants to see those kinds of speeds, at a minimum, become available to the country's rural and remote broadband dead zones.

And it intends to help reach that mark through a loose mix of private investments, "targeted" government funding and public/private partnerships.

But the policy appears to be of the toothless, unenforceable variety, since the regulator pledged only that it would "closely monitor the industry's progress in reach the target." So, consider this a bit of peer pressure being applied to the nation's service providers.

For those keeping score, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's recently updated definition of broadband is 4 Mbit/s down by 1 Mbit/s up, so both sides of the border are in the same ballpark. (See FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s and FCC: Up to 24M Lack Broadband Access.)

Hitting the Canadian speed mark might seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy along the lines of the FCC's "100 Squared" initiative, which aims to have 100Mbit/s services available in 100 million homes by 2020, since Canadian service providers such as Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), Shaw Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) already offer speeds well above the CRTC's stated benchmark.

Plus, the task doesn't appear to be that daunting, as the CRTC claims that over 80 percent of Canadian households currently have access to downstream speeds of 5Mbit/s or higher. But Canada's landscape is more rural than the U.S.'s, so it may indeed have a special set of challenges to overcome in areas where dial-up still rules and video streaming services like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) are a mere pipe dream.

And speaking of Netflix, the CRTC is the same agency that came under fire for a plan that would've forced smaller ISPs to use usage-based billing models and broadband overage fees. So, in their view, speed is good, so long as it's metered. (See O, Canada! Netflix Streaming Gets a Reprieve.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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