Internet access speeds are always an issue unless you are connected in a corporate environment which offers super fast fiber or other connection. For mobile users it never seems that connection speeds are quick enough.
Of course if you are depending upon a WiFi connection for your mobile device the issue becomes even more hit and miss.
A recent quarterly report from the state of the internet by Akamai shows that Canada and the US both are behind Europe and Asia in the average mobile speeds available to users. Canada show an average of 16.2 Mbps and the US slightly better at 18.7 Mbps. That speed ranks the US as tenth in the study well below the top performers in South Korea and Norway at 28.6 and 23.5 respectively.
What this means is that users in the countries with lower performance from their mobile connections may be more dependent upon getting WiFi connections for data intensive uses. Of course when we also factor in the costs of connectivity the issue might be compounded.
We know that Canada has substantially higher mobile costs when compared to US carriers and jurisdictions, locking in a higher cost of connectivity for Canadian users.
What this data shows is that competitiveness in the international communication field is both a factor of technology and also cost. Costs are often driven by the political situations since in Canada we have a highly regulated mobile infrastructure while some other world locations may have a more open field.
In an interesting decision of the CRTC (the Canadian regulator) a fairly small carrier primarily focused on the North was denied access to special rates from one of the big southern carriers for a service they wished to offer using technology which would permit mobile connectivity over data networks. The target for this is in southern Canada and would have been a way for this carrier to move into the bigger southern market. The Canadian Minister responsible for the department has directed the decision to Cabinet for review since it has implications for innovation and market competition.
This case shows how tough it can be for innovative tools to be introduced into our challenging communication system. One of the big issues in Canada is our massive geographic spread with many hundreds of thousands of square miles of low population area where there is still needs for cost effective communication.
The bulk of the investment in communications infrastructure rightly gets focused on the high population areas where the market is better and the returns are greater.
This probably factors into the lower average speeds of available connections as the more remote areas of the country outside of urban centres are more challenged for service. This is reflected in the country in Ontario, Alberta, BC and Quebec just as it is in smaller centres.
Our more densely populated competitors in other areas of the world do not face all of these same challenges on a grand a scale and this may reflect in better results on speed of connection comparisons. Many less developed areas of the world offer much lower average speeds and I think that this is similar to what is experienced in more remote areas in Canada.
In some ways the development of access to cost effective communications and data access is today's version of the national railway which was so prominent as part of the issues are Confederation. The story from 150 years ago is that BC joined with the central Canadian provinces in Confederation based upon a promise to build the national railway to link them.
Even with the advent of satellite supported world wide communications providing the capacity to support data intensive uses in remote locations on a cost effective basis is still a challenge. It is one which is increasingly understood and met using innovative tools but there is still a long way to go to ensure that every location in the country has the connectivity needed to participate fully in a connected world.
Decisions often get made based upon the standards of the urbanized environment which experiences a much different connectivity system from remote users. Policies and programs need to reflect the needs of all users, not just those concentrated in the big centres.