Last December, the CRTC ruled that broadband internet would be considered a “basic telecommunications service” for Canadians and set up a new fund to invest $750 million in internet infrastructure and other improvements over the next five years. The goal of this program is to develop "a telecommunications system that serves to enrich and strengthen the social and economic fabric of Canada and its regions".
As part of this ruling, the CRTC also set ambitious new speed targets for Internet services in Canada, mandating minimum download speeds of 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 10 Mbps. These would of course apply everywhere in the country, in rural and urban areas alike.
As those responsible for providing high-quality services to their communities, Canadian municipalities are now putting plans in place to meet these targets. For many of them, particularly in rural areas where high-speed access tends to be limited, there's a lot of work left to do. Based on our April 2016 report of internet performance in Canada, download speeds that Canadians are getting were just 18.64 Mbps on average, while average upload speeds were 7.26 Mbps. This reflects a combination of the interconnectedness of the internet fabric in Canada and the packages that the typical subscriber is paying for.
Heat map of internet performance as reported in the IPT showing how you can compare across a region and see, in this case, distinct urban-rural differences.
Going beyond speed to consider internet quality
Speed is just one of many components of internet quality. It's an important one, to be sure, but it only tells part of the story. In reality, there are a wide variety of other metrics – such as latency, jitter, packet loss, congestion, DNSSEC, and IPV6 capability – that play a role in providing us with a more comprehensive measure of internet quality along with a better online experience.
To cite one example, consider the potential impact of jitter on the user experience. Jitter measures the variation in packet flow across the network. When jitter gets too high – say greater than 20 ms – real-time video conferencing applications like Skype or Facetime start to see degraded performance. When this happens, video streams can appear “jerky” or freeze altogether, which results in a poor user experience. With more and more applications moving to the cloud quality measures beyond speed are more important than ever since in a bi-directional experience things like buffering only partially solve the problem.
The CIRA Internet Performance Test
Recognizing the limitations of existing internet speed tests, CIRA has developed a comprehensive test of internet quality – the CIRA Internet Performance Test (IPT).
Unlike most internet speed tests, the IPT uses test nodes located in Canadian Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), rather than within the infrastructure of individual Internet Service Providers. This architecture makes it possible to measure the actual “off-net” performance of the internet connection being tested, and therefore more closely approximates the online experience of real internet users accessing content in the “wild”.
And, while many connectivity tests only measure speed, the IPT measures upload and download speeds along with over a hundred other aspects of connection quality. When viewed collectively, these metrics provide a much more nuanced view of the performance of your connection than can be achieved by a simple speed test.
Why is high-quality internet service important for Canadian municipalities?
The quality of internet service has a significant impact on a municipality's ability to attract and retain businesses looking to thrive in the digital economy. This is especially the case with small- to medium sized-businesses, as they are the ones most likely to be impacted by poor Internet performance. When businesses struggle with poor connectivity, especially as more and more depend on cloud-based applications to run their operations, it can lead to reduced productivity, higher costs and lower profits. Not surprisingly, when your competitors located in other municipalities enjoy superior levels of service, they have an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. And it's not just businesses – the impact of poor service can also be felt by individuals
To provide the right conditions for businesses and individuals to succeed in the digital economy, municipal governments, along with ISPs and other levels of government, are now tasked with putting a plan in place to achieve the speeds mandated by the CRTC. It's equally important for them to go beyond speed and continue to improve the overall quality of internet connections in their regions.
Improvement starts with measurement
So where to start? The first step in this process is measurement, and to date, measuring internet speed and quality in a meaningful way has been a challenge for many municipalities.
The CRTC is working to provide some guidance here too and has formed a working group to, “develop recommendations as to the appropriate metrics and reporting to define high-quality fixed broadband access”.
It is also where our Internet Performance Test can help. At the most basic level, the IPT provides value to individual consumers who want to determine whether they're getting the kind of service they expect from their broadband provider.
For municipalities and other levels of governments, the IPT can be used to get a macro view of internet performance across the region. In fact, one of the key advantages of the CIRA Internet Performance Test is that it allows you to look at quality and speeds of connections in different parts of your region, or farther afield if you choose. It also allows a neutral comparison with other jurisdictions across Canada since the methodology and testing nodes are controlled. And finally, individuals can contribute regardless of municipal involvement simply by making the CIRA Internet Performance Test one of their go-to platforms when they are evaluating therr own service performance.
If you'd like to schedule a meeting to discuss how the Internet Performance Test can help you measure internet quality in your municipality, contact us today.