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  #1  
Old 03-05-2010, 04:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default High-Speed Internet Access in Canada: It's Expensive & Slow

<p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1258062436.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0; float: left;" />I'm feeling a bit miffed lately after talking with my cable company, <a href="http://www.shaw.ca" target="_blank">Shaw Calgary</a>, so excuse me while I rant about high-speed Internet access in Canada for a bit.</p><p>For several years, I've been paying about $50 CAD (about $50 USD) per month for high-speed Internet access that was eventually bumped up to 25mbps downstream speeds, and 1 mbps upstream speeds. The reliability has been excellent - I recall perhaps one period of down-time in the past year - and the 25mbps downstream speeds are sufficiently zippy for my needs. 99% of the time, the bottleneck on my downloads is the server at the other end. When I connect to a fast server, such as downloading NVIDIA graphics drivers for instance, it's not uncommon to see 2MB/s download speeds. The 1mbps upstream speed, however, was always a source of frustration for me. I shoot a lot of <a href="http://photos.jasondunn.com" target="_blank">photos</a> and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/Thoughtsmedia" target="_blank">videos</a>, and when you're uploading 600 MB of JPEGs or an 800 MB HD video file, uploading at 1mbps is a painfully slow process, requiring hours. My ISP has been constantly ratcheting up download speeds, which is great, but the upload speeds have been between 512kbps and 1mbps (depending on the account) for years.</p><p>Pricing is also a concern; <a href="http://www.thestar.com/sciencetech/article/643388" target="_blank">this article by Michael Geist</a> has some shocking facts that are worth digging in to: Canada ranks 14th in the world in terms of high-speed accessing being affordable. Consumers in the UK pay an average of $30 USD equivalent, while we in Canada pay an average of $45 USD equivalent. That's a 50% hike! To put that into direct context, my ISP (Shaw) charges $33/month for their cheapest package if you don't also have other services from them. The speed of this $33 package? A sluggish 1mbps download speed and glacial 256kbps upload speeds. Oh, and a 10 GB/month bandwidth cap as an extra kick in the head. <MORE /></p><p>Back to Canada on the world stage: we rank 24th out of 30 countries in terms of speed. Fibre-optics based Internet access has 48% penetration in Japan, while in Canada we have essentially 0% penetration. <a href="http://fibe.bell.ca/index.php" target="_blank">Bell Canada has recently launched Fibe</a>, a fibre-optics service that boasts 25mbps download speeds and 7mbps upload speeds. In a typical corporate twist of the knife, however, all plans have 1mbps upload speed until you get up to the most expensive plan ($52.95 CAD/month) when the upload speed jumps from 1mbps to 7mbps.</p><p>I'd gladly pay $53/month to get 7mbps upload speeds, but Fibe is an Eastern-Canada only service for now. Back to Geist's article: he says that once factor in the price and speed of Canadian high-speed Internet access, Canada ranks 28th out of the 30th countries included in this study. The only countries lower than us are Mexico and Poland. That's depressing. Adding insult to injury, Canada is one of only four countries in this study that implements bandwidth caps on their customers (strangely, the USA isn't listed there - but I'm sure there are US ISPs that have bandwidth caps).</p><p>Back to my own Internet access: as I began to produce more video content last year, the 1mbps upload speed grew increasingly frustrating. I bit the bullet and upgraded to the next package, which more than doubled the cost of my Internet package (from $45 CAD up to $96 CAD). What did I get for that doubling? Double the upload speed - 2mbps. The download speed also went from 15mbps to 25mbps, but I routinely benchmarked the 15mbps service clocking in at 19mbps, so getting the bump to 25mbps was worthless. Besides, it's pretty hard to find a server that can dish up 3.1 MB/s real-world download speeds to begin with.</p><p>Doubling my upload speed really helped me do my job better, but I fumed at the $96/month it was costing me. I have my cable and phone service from Shaw as well, so my bill was well north of $200/month with them. My hope was the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOCSIS" target="_blank">DOCSIS 3.0 roll-out</a>, which allows for channel bonding and massively increased speeds. I was expecting that when Shaw implemented DOCSIS 3.0, it would mean an across-the-board increase in both upload and download speeds. I was pining for even faster upload speeds of course, as friends in the US told me about their 5mbps upload speeds.</p><p>So what did Shaw do when DOCSIS 3.0 arrived? They unveiled a new top-end package that cost an stunning $149/month, and did nothing to improve any of their lower-cost packages. This expensive package offers an impressive 5mbps upstream and 100mbps downstream speeds...but $149/month? What brand of hallucinogens are they taking to think that even the most die-hard consumers will pay that much for Internet access? As much as I want 5mbps upload speeds, the thought of <em>tripling </em>my Internet package cost makes my blood boil.</p><p>In a free market-based economy, competition is the key to better services at lower prices for consumers. The only credible competition to Shaw in Calgary, there city where I live, is Telus - our old-school land-line telco. They offer DSL packages, but their "turbo" package tops out at 15mbps downstream and 1mbps upstream for $45/month. DSL has lagged behind cable Internet access for years, and short of Telus deploying Fibre-based services, they're simply no challenge to Shaw.</p><p>Meanwhile, a friend in Sweden tells me he pays the equivalent of around $50 USD for 1gbps upstream and downstream - no, that's not a typo. It's a fibre optics-based system that, at those speeds, would essentially eliminate your end as being the bottleneck - the upload or download would generally go as fast as the server on the other end could send or receive the data. He's not alone, as <a href="http://gigaom.com/2010/02/11/so-where-else-in-the-world-can-you-get-1-gbps-to-the-home/" target="_blank">multiple networks around the world</a> are reaching 1gbps. Meanwhile, those of us in Canada are "smurfing the Interweb" like it's 2002. Things have got to improve here, but the number of things that would need to change to improve the situation are daunting.</p><p>What's Internet access like where you are dear readers?</p><p><em>Jason Dunn owns and operates <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/" target="_blank">Thoughts Media Inc.</a>, a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys <a href="http://photos.jasondunn.com/" target="_blank">photography</a>, mobile devices, <a href="http://www.jasondunn.com/" target="_blank">blogging</a>, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, his son Logan, and his sometimes obedient dog. He wishes there was more competition in all sorts of Canadian markets.</em></p><p><em></em><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></p><p><strong>Do you enjoy using new hardware, <a class="iAs" href="http://www.digitalhomethoughts.com/news/show/93798/dell-s-inspiron-mini-10-reviewed.html" target="_blank">software</a> and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Thoughts Media Review Team</a>! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested? <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Then click here for more information.</a></strong></p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></p><p>&nbsp;</p>
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  #2  
Old 03-05-2010, 04:56 PM
ptyork
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Pffft! Your service seems pretty darned good to me. I pay $40 USD per month for a whopping 6M/384K service. The best DSL service around here is 6/256. I could sell my soul to Comcast and pay $55 for 16M/2M service (or 20/4 service depending on which misleading thing you are looking at--they are simply the WORST about telling you what you can get for what price and for how long--the WORST). I may do this. But no matter what, the service is far behind those of the leading countries.

I think it is a) population density and b) government subsidization. There's also c) no real competition due to oligopoly/monopoly conditions, but I expect that's the case in the "advanced" countries as well (thus the need for b). Regardless of reason, it sucks.
 
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Old 03-05-2010, 05:37 PM
Andy Dixon
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I have to say I am a little envious of your current speeds, even before you upgraded to the 2mb upload speeds. Here in the UK I cannot get cable, as cable is only available in a small percentage of areas in the UK. The rest of us have to do with DSL technology which quite frankly is appalling.

Take my own speeds. I am subscribed to a package that can 'theoretically' get me 24Mb down, 1.5Mb up for $50 a month. However, due to the way DSL is implemented over the old copper telephone system I get 2.5Mb down and 650kb up. Here I am paying the price for a 24Mb connection and I get 10% of that available speed.

My speeds are down to the fact that I live approximately 4km away from the telephone exchange. Fibre is only presented to the exchange, and then its copper to your home. So if you want fast internet in the UK, you'd best hope you live within 100m of the exchange, because any further away and the speeds deteriorate massively.

BT are now starting to roll out 'Fibre to the Cabinet' which basically moves the DSLAM from the exchange to the cabinet in the street near your home which should bring a bigger boost to speeds, but we will still lag behind many other countries who are now getting 'Fibre to the Home'.

I agree totally with your biggest complaint though, the upload speed. Why oh why have the ISP's and telecom companies not realised we are in a digital world now. We want to share home movies, photos of our holiday trips, etc with family? All those things that now require an upload speed in order to do so? It's actually more convenient for me to stick the media on a DVD and post it to my family than get them to download my latest snowboarding headcam movies via my 650kb upload speed.
 
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Old 03-05-2010, 05:43 PM
Stinger
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ISPs in most of the world offer low upload bandwidth to stop commercial users hopping onto consumer products.

Personally, I pay 12 inc. tax ($18.66 CAD) for 24Mbit up and 1.3Mbit down with no caps or traffic shaping. It's a DSL service so I never usually get the full 24Mbit, but my average of around 20Mbit is more than enough for my needs. My experiences with DSL are definitely better than Andy's above. I guess that's the advantage of living in a large city where I'm very close to a LLU exchange. Having endured slow and incredibly expensive internet access in the 90s, I'm very happy with my current deal!
 
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:02 PM
Hooch Tan
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Fellow Canadian here, but not as fortunate as Jason. My cable internet comes in at CAN$45/mo with 10Mbps/512Kbps. My DSL comes in as CAN$30/mo at 5Mbps/800Kbps. Either way, uploads are painfully slow.

I have to agree that for me, increased upload speeds would be more valuable than an increase in download speeds. I find little problems with 5-10Mbps (of course, faster is always appreciated) when watching videos, etc. but sending things to friends takes agonizingly long.

Supposedly, there is an increased amount of pressure on opening up the Canadian market to foreign companies, which may mean more competition, and maybe faster, better, stronger Internet!
 
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:47 PM
doogald
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I have 10 down and 2 up, but that just increased 5 months ago from 5 down and 512k up. I pay $40 a month. I could bump up to 20 to 25 down / 2 to 3 up for another $15 a month. I'm too far from the CO, so we cannot get DSL, and Verizon has not brought FIOS into town yet (to the two towns to our east, yes, but not to us.)

To be honest, this is good enough for me. Besides just normal web and email and stuff, I do backup my systems, two of them once a day and my laptop every six hours.

I wouldn't mind more speed for the same price, though.

At my summer house in SW New Hampshire, though, I have zero choices for broadband internet right now. I am thinking about trying out satellite, but we are in a pretty woodsy area and I am not sure if we have the right sightline, and we are near water, so restricted on the number of trees we can cut down. We definitely cannot cut down trees on the neighbors' yards.
 
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Old 03-05-2010, 07:38 PM
Jason Dunn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptyork View Post
I could sell my soul to Comcast and pay $55 for 16M/2M service (or 20/4 service depending on which misleading thing you are looking at--they are simply the WORST about telling you what you can get for what price and for how long--the WORST).
Compared to my choices, that Comcast option is pretty good - 16M/2M for $55 is roughly half of what it costs me to get 25M/2M.

But paying $40/month for 6M/384KB service is indeed a travesty.
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Old 03-05-2010, 07:45 PM
rlobrecht
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I pay $55 for 6 M down 768 k up DSL with a fixed IP. I can't get decent cable at my house. Some parts of Houston can get high-speed business class cable with the kinds of speeds you're talking about, but at similar pricing.
 
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  #9  
Old 03-05-2010, 08:13 PM
Jason Dunn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Dixon View Post
I agree totally with your biggest complaint though, the upload speed. Why oh why have the ISP's and telecom companies not realised we are in a digital world now. We want to share home movies, photos of our holiday trips, etc with family? All those things that now require an upload speed in order to do so?
I didn't mention this in my article, because it's a whole can of worms, but the problem for ISPs are people using BitTorent. The ISPs know that if they, say, double the upload speed, the bulk of the usage of that upload speed is going to be from people using BitTorent to get pirated movies, music, and software. I tried to find some stats on how much of the Internet is torrent traffic, but couldn't. I seem to recall it's pretty high though - upwards of 50%.

With "regular" Internet users, when ISPs raise the speeds, they know that they can expect "x" percentage of use at any given time. But with BitTorent users, the kind who are always seeding and downloading, they'll gobble up any and all bandwidth the ISPs provide. BitTorent breaks the entire basis upon which ISPs operate, which is "X" bandwidth divided by "Y" users at "Z" intensity of use. BitTorent users are bandwidth bullies.

I know someone is going to crow "Oh, but there are legitimate uses for BitTorent", but come on, that's just frosting on a BS cake. We all know 99.999% of all BitTorent use is for stealing content. Personally, I'd be happy it my ISP blocked BitTorent traffic and jacked upload and download speeds waaay up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Dixon View Post
It's actually more convenient for me to stick the media on a DVD and post it to my family than get them to download my latest snowboarding headcam movies via my 650kb upload speed.
Ouch...now THAT'S painful to read. When you have to use atoms because the bits move too slowly, something is very wrong with the world.
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Old 03-06-2010, 08:17 PM
Lee Yuan Sheng
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Eh, what? Faster uploads = more Bittorrenting? I don't think that's how it works. Sure Bittorrent requires you to seed but I don't think it checks your share ratio.
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