The goal of the current study is to understand which telecommunications services are necessary for Canadians to participate in the digital economy, and what part the CRTC should play in ensuring that all Canadians have the access they need. Two sample sources were used to gather survey results profiling Internet service and use (a representative panel sample, and an open link advertised on the CRTC website and in social media). It is noteworthy that 28,794 Canadians participated in the open link indicating the strong interest in this topic across the country. A series of focus groups and interviews were also held with residents of rural communities that were identified as under-served to further understand the daily needs and opinions of those with the least access.
Survey evidence highlights widespread subscription to home Internet, mobile and home telephone services. Further, while one in five do not have home telephone service, only half as many do not have a mobile phone. The majority receive home Internet service through cable, however, rural residents are considerably more likely to have Internet service delivered through telephone line, satellite, or fixed wireless. Although many do not know their download speed or monthly data transfer capacity, the large majority of those who do report unlimited Internet and download speeds over 25 Mbps. Dramatically lower download speeds and
monthly caps are reported by residents in rural areas.
Exploring the types and frequency of activities Canadians participate in online, and comparing results with a Statistics Canada survey taken in 2010, shows a dramatic increase in online engagement over the last five years. Participation in the majority of activities has increased by 50 per cent or more, and in some cases 100 per cent or more (e.g. downloading software, making online video calls, researching investments, and contributing content in discussions). Rural focus group and interview participants described use of the Internet to stay connected to the world through news websites, staying in touch with family and friends using Skype and social media, online banking, education, employment, and finding products and services that are not readily available in the community (e.g. health services).
Just over one in five Canadians in the representative survey said that they have limited their use of Internet services at some point in the last 12 months, although this is considerably more prominent in rural areas. Among Canadians in the open survey this skyrockets to over half. By far, the most common reasons given for limiting Internet use are cost and capacity. Discussion participants from rural and underserved areas spoke at length about needing to limit their Internet use as a result of speed, capacity, or both. Many described difficulties using websites with pictures or using flash, streaming video, uploading and downloading documents, playing games online and making online video calls.
Seven in ten Canadians or more from the representative survey, are satisfied with the reliability and speed of their home Internet service, and only one in five or fewer are dissatisfied. Contrastingly, Canadians are far less positive about the price of their home internet service. Only about one in three respondents reported satisfaction with price, while half said they are dissatisfied. Consumers who have limited their online activity due to cost or capacity, particularly rural residents, are the most likely to be dissatisfied on each of the dimensions. In terms of mobile service satisfaction, consumers’ views are remarkably similar to their feelings about home Internet service.
When presented with the idea of a minimum standard of Internet service available to all Canadians, the majority favour a combined effort by service providers, governments and the CRTC to ensure a minimum standard of service. The majority of people believe that market forces alone should not be responsible for delivering this standard level of service.
By and large, Canadians agree that pricing for Internet services in rural and remote areas should be the same as for urban areas of the country. The remainder believe pricing should be only “a little bit higher”, virtually no one believes it should be significantly higher. Naturally, support for equal pricing is higher among rural residents, although there are surprisingly limited differences between urban and rural residents on their views about comparative pricing.