Help me unsuck Canada's Internet -

Help me unsuck Canada’s Internet

Jesse Brown is looking for a smart fix that would have a big impact


Any way you slice it, the Internet sucks in Canada.

I know, I know—it’s the same Internet everywhere, the Internet knows no boundaries, etc. But work with me here! And consider the evidence:

  • Many (most?) of the best commercial sites and services online are blocked to Canadians.
  • We haven’t had a single major web startup in Canada, despite the incredible amount of engineering talent that emerges from this country every year (and from the University of Waterloo alone).
  • The OECD ranks Canada #28 out of 33 countries when it comes to broadband speeds, and #32 out of 40 when it comes to the price we pay for our pokey access.
  • They also note that Canada is one of the only countries where ISPs impose explicit bit caps.
  • Canadians don’t have much privacy on the Internet, and we’re about to have less; once the Conservatives pass Lawful Access legislation, as they’ve promised to do, police will have unfettered access to all kinds of our personal information online.

Even the U.S. government thinks Canada’s Internet sucks—they’ve again put us on their Special 301 watchlist, placing us with China and Pakistan as the world’s worst online pirates. Recent evidence shows that piracy is actually at an all time low in Canada, but why quibble? Opinions and positions differ wildly on these issues, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that our Internet stinks.

So let’s fix it.

On Tuesday May 25th, I’ll be hosting a workshop at the Mesh Technology Conference in Toronto. It’ll be an open forum exploring a range of solutions to the problem of Canada’s sucky Internet.

I could use your help.

In the comments, tell me what practical steps we could take to fix our Internet. What I’m looking for is a sentence or two on one smart fix that would have a big impact. Your answers will be shared on stage and discussed by some of the world’s smartest technologists.

So have at it!

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Help me unsuck Canada’s Internet

  1. A few months ago Maclean’s was siding with the big ISPs on forcing usage based billing on indepedent ISPs, which would basically mean the big ISPs would get to decide how much internet Canadians are allowed to have. While other countries have invested in the internet and have great infrastructure, we’re going to be left behind in the internet ghetto. Pretty sad, as Canadians LEAD in adoption of new internet services and trends. 

  2. Flush disqus and go back to intensedebate…

    Seriously, though, I live in a rural community just outside a major city. The spelling-challenged xplornet service I receive is atrocious. I pay for a certain number of Gbps service that they willingly tell me is never going to happen. However, they are not to blame because they have a “fair use” policy that somehow absolves them of their contractual obligation to provide me with the service I pay for. My city is a paying partner in crime, supposedly to “encourage” them to soak me for their oversold, underperforming, expensive service and emails to them are ignored.

    I have no idea why we have no competition in this country, but whatever that reason is, that’s the problem

  3.  Practically, I think the quickest fix would be to open our market to foreign investment. It is clear the existing ISPs are happy with status quo; low innovation, low investment, massive ARPU. Our current ARPU alone should attract foreign investors, who will help to drive competition and hopefully increase the innovation & investment with a happy side-effect of reducing ARPU.

    … oh, and re-vamp the CRTC. Von Finkelstein and others are all toadies of the incumbents!

    • The internet business is not regulated in Canada nor is it closed to foreign ownership or investment.  The only thing stopping foreign firms setting up shop and competing with Canadian ISPs is the will to do so.  The market is already wide open for those who want to play. 

      • You are wrong.

        • Prove it.  Show me the section of the Telecom Act that says ISP’s have to be owned/controlled by Canadians.

          • Canadian Ownership and Control

            Marginal note:Definitions

            16. (1) The following definitions apply in this section.


            « entité »“entity” means a corporation, partnership, trust or joint venture.“joint venture”

            « coentreprise »“joint venture” means an association of two or more entities, if the relationship among those associated entities does not, under the laws in Canada, constitute a corporation, a partnership or a trust and if all the undivided ownership interests in the assets of the Canadian carrier or in the voting interests of the Canadian carrier are or will be owned by all the entities that are so associated.“voting interest”

            « intérêt avec droit de vote »“voting interest”, with respect to

            (a) a corporation with share capital, means a voting share;

            (b) a corporation without share capital, means an ownership interest in the assets of the corporation that entitles the owner to rights similar to those enjoyed by the owner of a voting share; and

            (c) a partnership, trust or joint venture, means an ownership interest in the assets of the partnership, trust or joint venture that entitles the owner to receive a share of the profits and to share in the assets on dissolution.

            Marginal note:Eligibility

            (2) A Canadian carrier is eligible to operate as a telecommunications common carrier if

            (a) it is an entity incorporated, organized or continued under the laws of Canada or a province and is Canadian-owned and controlled;

            (b) it owns or operates only a transmission facility that is referred to in subsection (5); or

            (c) it has annual revenues from the provision of telecommunications services in Canada that represent less than 10% of the total annual revenues, as determined by the Commission, from the provision of telecommunications services in Canada.

  4. Access to last mile infrastructure for community co-ops. I’m willing to pay for some sort of  course/certification that enables me to work on poles if it means I can help wire my community together with fibre for the cost of materials.

    • I like your idea.

      But you don’t need a certificate to work on a pole, you just have to enjoy dancing and removing clothes.

  5. Canadians are reactionaries who are scared of knowledge and debate. There are no smart fixes for people who prefer ignorance. 

    • And you’re basing that on what….exactly? 

      • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance ~ Confucius

        Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, walk around thinking they are guided by ‘science’ and anyone who disagrees is anti-intellectual.

        • Well I don’t know who these ‘progressives’ are that the rightwing keeps talking about, cuz I’ve never met one. But most people are in favour of progress….which last time I looked, involved science and intellect..

          • If Canadian love ‘progress’ so much why does State have to use coercion all the time? And what do you think parents who were falsely accused of foul play think of ‘progress’? 

            Liberals and progressives are unaware that educated and intelligent are not synonyms.

            “Dr. Charles Smith was once considered top-notch in his field of forensic child pathology …. But Smith no longer practises pathology …. coroner’s review found that Smith made questionable conclusions of foul play in 20 of the cases — 13 of which had resulted in criminal convictions.” cbc, aug 10 2010

          • I have no idea what you’re on about now, since you’re arguing several contradictory assertions at once. None on topic.

            Let me know when you want to actually discuss progress and science/technology instead of your political fantasies. 

          • I am discussing them, I don’t know what you are doing.

            I also meant to write social conservatives and their bible are as bad as progressives and science. Two sides of same coin – both want to control and stifle. 
            I wait for day when Canadians think for themselves instead of looking to others to decide for them. 

          • “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” 

            Stephen Hawking

          • You might want to tone down on the generalizations there. Or should we start calling all libertarians psycho whack-jobs?

      • The last election, I’m assuming. :)

        • LOL point taken.

    • This whole string of comments is hilarious and awesome for so many reasons.

      The two most annoying commenters in this community, from both the right and left, finally go toe-to-toe and combine in a synergistic explosion of baseless ideological mudslinging.

      The comments are so amazingly off-topic and unhelpful to the original intent of the post. The bitter labeling of the other side reaches particularly high levels. The counter claims of not understanding the other person are all the more amusing because they are probably true on all counts. Special bonus points for the inclusion of dueling quotations that do nothing to advance any argument because absolutely zero context is provided for them.

      These postings have to be preserved by Macleans as some kind of comment-thread cautionary tale.

      Emily and TonyAdams (aka, JWL, aka, Bergkamp), Thanks.

  6. Split the delivery infrastructure from the content providers, and then open up the delivery infrastructure to foreign competition or structure it as a non-profit.  Remove the inherent conflict of interest that exists when one company is responsible for providing both internet access and television/telephone service and make sure that the resulting organization is responsible for one thing, and one thing only: providing internet service at the fastest speed with the highest reliability possible across Canada.

  7. Create an explicit legal mandate for any municipality that feels inadequately served by their existing ISP to set up and operate their own infrastructure for the benefit of constituents. Sit back and watch the tel/cable-cos squawk; enjoy the increased competition and concomitant price decreases.

    Launch a campaign to educate people about internet-related issues, especially those that relate to copyright, privacy, data mining, etc. Place particular emphasis on educating people about cryptography, and the importance it has in preserving freedom on- and offline. Set up a national PKI and encourage its broad adoption by sending governmental communications encrypted using the citizen’s choice of registered public key.

    Require that all ISPs provide static IPs to their customers for at most a nominal surcharge. Offer tax breaks to those that do sensible, net-friendly things like migrate to IPv6, offer symmetric upload and download bandwidth (higher download bandwidth is irksome because it suggests that proper role of ‘net users to consume content produced by others), and so on.

  8. Openmedia is out savior or at least our best option to organize, educate and apply pressure on the government. The CRTC is made up of all ex big 3 telecom executes and not consumers so pretty clear where their loyalties lie. I try to educate my friend and family about using proxies to get US IP addresses. For privacy or avoiding “traffic shaping” SSH tunnels are the only option currently available. I think we need to try push for better protection for this essential service but in the mean time we educate people on encryption methods.

  9. Last month the World Economic Forum ranked Canada 10th out of 139 countries for broadband internet access, 11th for secure internet servers, 15th for access to digital content, and 19th for internet bandwidth.  Being in the top 15% of countries for these metrics is actually a pretty good place to be.  Sure there is room for improvement but I’m not sure it is accurate to suggest that Canada’s internet sucks.   

  10.  Also the 25th of May is a Wednesday not a Tuesday. 

  11. Stop trying to find a middle way.  Complete deregulation and open the market to foreign competition or single provider monopoly fully regulated and publicly subsidized.  Stop trying to do both.

  12.  Pay for service w/ ‘bitcoin’

    That’ll shake it up.

  13. wanna unsuck Canadian internet, break the telecoms into wholesale and retail divisions.+ as they sell the internet by the GigaByte  these days, A GigaByte is a measurement of Data, thus should be placed under the weights and measurements act making the telecoms prove they are billing correctly. If they sell us by the Gig, then there is no doubt we got the Gig, no Bell Canada saying oops we erred, no more bills that would leave you wondering how you went over your limit. 

  14. Humm, un-suck the internet in Canada….  Okay, make access to a neutral internet a public service provided at cost  to Canadian citizens across the country.  Heck, government subsidies provided the funding for much of the infrastructure anyway.  Why should the private ISPs profit off of infrastructure that we’ve already paid for?

  15. Non-profit ISP that does make a small to moderate operating profit (but lower than the big two’s huge margins) but has to put every cent of profit back into infrastructure or other investment. ISP should be technically owned by all the users similar to a building society.

    • Sounds good on paper but trying to find someone who is willing to invest their life savings in a non-profit venture that has no hope of ever paying them back will likely be a bit difficult.

      What you are suggesting sounds like a state-owned internet which means the money to build and operate it comes from taxpayers.  Good luck trying to convince Canadians to redirect scarce tax dollars from health care to the internet instead. 

  16. The blocked content in your link is not the purview of the canadian government, it’s of the content creators and distributors.  The distributors sell content licensed to them by region, when the IP connecting to them is not from a region they cared about enough to purchase the rights to distribute to they pop up a nice little ‘not available in your region’ message.  Our government cannot force them to unblock their sites to canadians.

    Canada does have web startups, first link upon googling, it is 3 years old but i think it sufficiently answers that complaint:

    The bit caps in existence that i’ve seen are rare and not terribly explicit.  They’re typically worded such that if you exceed them they can restrict your access, not will.  Also the caps are typically well above any home user’s demand.  Unless you’re running a high bandwidth server on your residential ISP (which you’re not supposed to do anyways), caps are unlikely to impact you.

    I’ve already commented on your panic over the lawful access legislation which is little more than that, a panic over a piece of legislation you were too lazy to research.

    Now about that deficiency Macleans has for tech writers who aren’t rabble rousers too lazy to research for their own articles.

    • You must read news papers and receive/send e-mail with your internet. I prefer to do much cooler things. I’m considered a “heavy” internet user by my ISP (Shaw). I have a 60gb/month cap. I have exceeded it in the past, though not by much as far as I can tell (one month’s bill was slightly higher than the typical amount).

      Please let me know which ISPs in Calgary AB offer internet without caps. I can’t seem to find one.

      • I’ve been with Telus for the most part.  Have exceeded their official cap at times.  Have not been restricted or charged for doing so.

  17. We believe that the solution to our internet is to make it more competitive by having more players, but our country’s unique geography (large area and small population) presents an economic challenge for any telco to deploy FTTH.

    An alternative is to have a common shared fibre local loop, that would allow all ISPs and IISPs to offer services over. The Australian government is building a national broadband network at great expense, but most medium sized cities in the US and Europe have opted for data utilities. This makes sense since we already own the water pipe, the sewerage pipe, the gas line and electrical cable on our property. And the city owns the local distribution. So why not the same for fibre?

    But if cities create data utilities, this has its own set of problems: no economies of scale, steep learning curve and limited experience in agreements with telcos. In addition most city business cases rely upon a triple play service including TV to make the economics work, but TV is a complicated business. It does not make sense for a city to compete with the telcos and cablecos, who have already invested billions of dollars in national networks.

    Our solution is to work with local communities to build fibre local loops that are then connected to the telcos and cablecos. We call it FFTH (Fibre From The Home), which has the benefits of being community centric, future proof and creating a model where telcos and cablecos can all compete for your business the old fashioned way – price and service.

    Our model creates thousands of local entrepreneurs who want to deploy fibre in their neighbourhoods. If you think this is interesting, we are just about to launch some trials, so check out trial our web site.

  18. Make Macleans available in e format to those who already subscribe to the paper format on Window and Linux operating systems. I would love to read it on the go on my Windows tablet.

  19. Lose the Bandwidth Caps entirely, you can’t cap an intangible product like this reasonably, so can it.

  20. Just one comment – not true that we haven’t had a single web startup – I can think of two, both very hot, well-funded and rapidly growing: Dayforce and Rypple.

  21. so what’s the word with the internet since this article was written, I believe more than 2yrs ago?