Canada's telecom regulator is launching a national program to measure Internet performance aimed at giving customers a better understanding of whether they get the speeds they pay for.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Thursday that it will recruit up to 6,200 Canadians to take part in the project, which will be conducted by United Kingdom-based Internet performance testing firm SamKnows Ltd.
Those who volunteer for the program will receive a device dubbed a "whitebox" that will be connected to their home modem or router and SamKnows will run tests when customers are not actively using their broadband or high-speed Internet connection.
Unlike some speed tests that are conducted through Internet browsers – which can be affected by the quality of the WiFi connection and hardware used – the intent of this program is to measure the download and upload speeds actually delivered to the household.
"The results of this project will enable Canadians to gain additional insight into network performance, including actual connection speeds, and provide them with a better understanding of whether certain Internet services from participating ISPs [Internet service providers] are delivering speeds as advertised," The CRTC said in a statement, adding it will also use the results to inform its policy direction on broadband services.
The CRTC said it will publish a comprehensive report of the findings and while the project is initially set to last for one year, it intends to continue collecting information on broadband speeds beyond that.
In April, the CRTC announced the beginning of a year-long examination of what constitutes a basic acceptable level of telecommunications services. The review is expected to focus heavily on broadband or high-speed Internet services, particularly in under-served rural and remote areas. In 2011, the commission set target speeds of 5 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 1 Mbps for uploading and stated that such speeds should be available to all Canadians by the end of 2015.
SamKnows said it reached an agreement in January with the CRTC and participating Internet service providers (ISPs) to conduct the testing, which will only be done on fixed-line Internet connections and will not measure mobile broadband speeds. The SamKnows webpage for the Canadian campaign lists Bell, Bell Aliant, Cogeco, Eastlink, MTS, Northwestel, Rogers, Shaw, Telus and Videotron as participating ISPs.
The Canadian program follows the lead of a U.S. initiative the Federal Communications Commission launched with SamKnows in 2011. The U.S. has since published four annual reports on broadband performance.
In Canada, Rogers Communications Inc. began working with SamKnows in 2012 and has also published four reports on its speeds. The most recent report from February, found that Rogers' speeds consistently exceed advertised download and upload speeds based on a sample of 440 customers over one month.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) announced its own Internet speed testing program using test servers at three Internet exchange locations in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. The CIRA test, which is performed through a Web browser, will anonymously collect the test results and compile them into a Canada-wide database, allowing for comparisons across regions.
The CRTC also released new data on television subscribers Thursday, part of a series of reports it publishes annually. Although this release typically includes information on Internet services, including revenue and subscriber numbers, the CRTC said it has split that information out this year and plans to include a comprehensive report on the Internet landscape in an upcoming report.
Thursday's report said the total number of television subscribers in Canada as of Aug. 31, 2014, dropped slightly to 11.43 million, down from 11.51 million in 2013.
Subscribers to satellite services were down 4.9 per cent to 2.6 million, while total cable and IPTV (Internet protocol television) customers increased by 0.2 per cent to 8.83 million.
The television distribution industry is struggling with an increasing number of households cutting the cord as well as a growing number of Canadians who never subscribed to a traditional TV service in the first place.
The CRTC report does not indicate how the results compare with population growth, but it does show the rate of decline in satellite subscribers is accelerating compared with previous years, while growth in the number of cable and IPTV subscribers is slowing and now close to flat.