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Peter Watts: How fast is your internet service?

As the CRTC alters its own regulations on minimum upload and download speeds, advocacy groups are calling on the commission to improve Canadians' access to faster internet.
As the CRTC alters its own regulations on minimum upload and download speeds, advocacy groups are calling on the commission to improve Canadians' access to faster internet. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

How much time do you spend uploading or downloading content from the internet? Are you a frequent user? Do you find the time it takes depends upon where you are?

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates access to the internet in Canada, disappointed advocacy groups this week when it changed its own regulations on minimum speeds for uploading and downloading material. The new standards will be about half of what the former regulations had set out as a goal to provide Canadians with faster internet service.

READ MORE: High-speed internet to be provided to the most remote Alberta communities

OpenMedia executive director Laura Tribe calls the move “a stunning step backwards” that demonstrates a serious lack of ambition to provide Canadians with faster internet service.

“From an engineering standpoint, there’s no reason for this decision,” she told me. “The CRTC controls a $750-million fund designed to make broadband services more accessible. In today’s world, digital technology is absolutely critical to so much of what we do, whether we are in a major urban area or a remote camp.”

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“We depend on the internet for so many things, from entertainment to banking to communication,” Tribe added. “We should be aiming high to ensure that everyone has access from wherever they are rather than settling for something far less.”

READ MORE: Low-income Canadians spend 9% of annual income on communications services: CRTC

The CRTC says its updated speed targets align with the service that the majority of Canadians use today. The new regulations require that minimum speeds be five megabits per second (Mbps) for uploads and 25 Mbps for downloads.

The commission adds that new projects will need to be designed so that they can scale up to the original target of 50 Mbps for download speeds and 10 Mbps for upload speeds.

WATCH: Manitoba city offers free high-speed internet to residents

Click to play video: 'Manitoba city offers free high-speed internet to residents' Manitoba city offers free high-speed internet to residents
Manitoba city offers free high-speed internet to residents – Apr 6, 2018

“I think a lot of Canadians will be disappointed by this,” Tribe said. “I hope the minister responsible, Navdeep Bains, will ask the CRTC to take another look at this. More and more Canadians are using the internet more and more frequently to do more and more things. We should be raising the bar on what to expect, not lowering it.”

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Consumers are also voters, and that should not be lost on the federal government. The next election is just over a year away.  The prime minister has enough on his plate. He does not need complaints from users about internet access or speeds. Many of those who use the internet aren’t yet old enough to vote — but they are old enough to complain to those that do.

I suspect the volume on the complaint dial is about to go up. It will be interesting to see how high the dial gets before the federal government decides to listen.

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