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Students work on laptops connected to Wi-Fi. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
Students work on laptops connected to Wi-Fi. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

Is your Internet as fast as it claims to be? Add to ...

Canada’s telecom regulator is conducting a broadband-testing pilot project with an eye to tackling consumer complaints about maximum advertised Internet speeds.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission announced Tuesday it is examining broadband testing programs being conducted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and Ofcom in the United Kingdom.

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Acting CRTC chairman Leonard Katz, who participated in a discussion at the 2012 Canadian Telecom Summit, said the CRTC is also in the process of conducting a pilot project in collaboration with an unnamed Internet Service Provider.

“Of course, as many Internet users are aware, the maximum advertised speed is not always the speed that you actually get,” Mr. Katz said in his prepared remarks.

“Testing of actual broadband speed at the customer’s end of the line can be an important tool for measuring achievement against objectives.”

During an interview, Mr. Katz said the CRTC’s pilot program is still in its early stages. It hopes to conduct a live test over the next 60 to 90 days to better understand the consumer experience.

“I’ve always been concerned, and I make no bones about it, that when people advertise ‘up to’ speeds that no one really knows what they are actually getting,” Mr. Katz added.

“And so, I think it is important to measure that and just make sure that those people who profess to offer speeds up to a certain level – for the most part – are achieving that commitment that they are making.”

The CRTC has previously established a “national speed target” to ensure that all Canadians have download speeds of at least 5 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps by 2015.

The CRTC estimates that 88 per cent of Canadians have access to download speeds of 5 Mbps or better.

As part of the regulator’s push to ensure that consumers are “getting good value for the money they spend” on telecom services, Mr. Katz said ISPs have a responsibility to help consumers understand how much bandwidth they consume when they download videos using desktop computers or wireless devices.

“Before you start charging people for consuming too much, to the average consumer, he doesn’t know what ‘too much’ is,” he said.

Consumers have no way of knowing how much capacity they are using when they click on a video on CNN versus downloading a hockey game, Mr. Katz said.

“Until consumers know what they are paying for, it is unfair to charge them.”

And while he had some tough words for the industry, he also stressed that Canadians benefit from competitive telecom prices, particularly for bundled services. He cited a recent study that showed Canadian prices for a four-product bundle are roughly 27 per cent lower in certain markets than for comparable services and usage in similar markets in the United States.

Mr. Katz, meanwhile, said he could offer no insights on when the federal government will appoint the next CRTC chair. And although he remained mum on whether he has applied for that job, he confirmed an interest in remaining at the commission after his current term as commissioner expires in October.

“I’m a grandfather but I’m still young and I enjoy doing public policy,” he said. “As long as people think I can contribute to the broader understanding and dynamics of the Canadian marketplace, I’d be glad to continue to do the job.”

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