The CRTC gave two valuable new sources of information in rapid succession.A new broadband survey and broadband services testing.
Last week was a great one for those of us who love studying and helping to improve the Internet in Canada. The CRTC gave two valuable new sources of information in rapid succession. First they released a new broadband survey on March 30 and then officially released some preliminary data on their broadband services testing the following day. The survey was intended to gather Canadians knowledge of (and use of) the Internet access they are getting. The testing is intended to improve the CRTC’s future broadband policy-making with insight into network performance, including connection speeds, as well as to understand whether Canadians are getting what they expect from their service providers.
Both of these were very interesting to read through as we prepare our own report on the Internet in Canada based on results from the .CA Internet Performance Test.
What are you waiting for? Test your Internet access now!
So how do CIRA’s results compare?
Our test and the CRTC’s are different, and directly comparing results obtained from each is a futile attempt (and in fairness, one that will simply yield inaccurate and useless comparisons). It is truly apples and oranges because although both will fill your belly, they do it with different information. To understand the differences between the tests, you have to dig pretty deep into the details of how each one works – we’re actually working on a post explaining the differences, so stay tuned or follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/ciralabs!
Both the CRTC’s and CIRA’s tests and their respective results play a critical role in better understanding the state of the Internet in Canada. Combined they actually mimic a little of what the FCC is doing in the USA by using multiple methods to test their performance. Coincidentally they use similar methodology to CRTC and CIRA. Tests provide valuable data that will ignite discussions amongst Canadians, ISPs and policy-makers about the quality of our broadband services, and our country’s ability to sustain a strong infrastructure to support our digital economic development.
What Canadians think they are getting from their ISPs
The CRTC’s survey data shows there is an almost normal distribution of reported speeds (i.e., what people say they think their home Internet speed is, based on their subscription package) with an average appearing to be somewhere in the 25 Mbps – 49 Mbps range. Particularly noteworthy is the huge number of people (50% of the representative survey) who didn’t know the answer to the question about what Internet access they are paying monthly bills for. We are heartened to see that amongst those who chose to visit the CRTC’s website to complete the survey (what is being called the open survey), 82% of respondents know what speed they are supposed to be getting (chart at right from http://www.crtc.gc.ca/internet2016/report.html).
This is where a comparison is fitting. The results from the .CA Internet Performance Test shows that, among those who have run tests, the average download speed that they are getting on Canada’s Internet is around 18 Mbps. Is this a discrepancy? Not exactly.
First, it must be noted that the CRTC’s survey provided ranges like, “25-49 Mbps” and “50-99 Mbps” as options, and there’s no way to know how many of those respondents fell in the lower end of those ranges. If you visit a few of the packages offered by the large ISPs it would suggest that the options fall in the lower end of the scales. Second, the CRTC survey depends on a self-reported figure of what people think they are paying for, not measured speeds.
The other reason the average we are seeing is only 18 Mbps across Canada is that the packages people are paying for are based on the speed that the ISP can guarantee. An ISP cannot guarantee that you will get 25 Mbps on the whole Internet because they, in theory, have no idea or responsibility for what happens to the traffic after it leaves their network. As a result, you should only reasonably expect them to commit to their part of the Internet. It is why raw speed is only one measure of the Internet.
Okay – so that covers survey figures what about actuals?
The CRTC is calling the second release a “broadband Internet performance” measure. One of its aims appears to confirm that ISPs are meeting their commercial obligation to Canadians. The testing methodology is a technical one rather than a social one and what they published in this preliminary report is that the actual download speeds Canadians receive are 109% – 122% of the advertised rate. It is great news that Canadians are getting more theoretical maximums than they expect, and nobody should criticize the analysis on that point. Raw maximum throughput is an important measure of Internet speed.
What we really liked is the real world experiences covered in the full report. In this case the CRTC white boxes that run tests from volunteers homes go out to several popular sites and measure how long it takes for all the packets to arrive. You cannot get maximum speed this way, but what you do get is a comparative measure of how long it takes for a page to load. This really matters because here we may well expect significant regional differences based on how the whole Internet works and the data shows this to be true. Why we like it is because it is an area where we can demonstrate need for improvement. Of course, what is missing from this type of chart is the denomonator. It will be interesting if future analysis can compare what options are available by region, what they cost, and what people choose. That said, a regional difference is a statement of fact on real world experiences by region.
Upload speeds – a bee in our bonnet
We know that download speeds are how Canadians understand the Internet and generally how it is bought and sold. Even the CRTC press release on their survey and test findings focused on them. We can’t blame them – latency, ping, congestion, packet sequence aren’t sexy. But we do wish more people would at least care about their upload speed. As the world moves into the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) starts really getting bi-directional, and you have a family all trying to do high resolution video conferencing, we recommend that buyers start to watch upload speed.
For the record our average upload speed across Canada was 7.26 Mbps based on people taking the .CA Internet Performance Test.
These reports from the CRTC are a great way to kick off a national discussion about the Internet in this country. Anything that helps to build a better online Canada is amazing in our books. There should be plenty of provocative headlines written, but we recommend everyone read the actual full reports (linked above). Take the time to understand a little bit about how the Internet works and use your consumer power to help influence change. After all, while you are only paying your ISP for access to the Global Internet, you are still using all of it. We hope that every ISP, policy maker, service provider and consumer can help make the Internet better by thinking globally and acting locally.
Stay tuned next week as we get under the hood to discuss the various ways you can measure the Internet (https://twitter.com/ciralabs)