Canada Needs a Broadband Plan to Stoke Competition

Canada’s former position as a leader in the deployment of fixed-line and mobile broadband has disappeared, according to new data from Harvard University’s Berkman Center. So maybe it’s time our neighbors to the north developed a national broadband plan that encourages competition.

The Berkman Center last week submitted a study on broadband policies and practices around the world to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which is scheduled to deliver its national broadband plan next month. The report, which can be downloaded here, indicates that while Canada made early strides with DSL and cable in the late 1990s it has been “a weak performer” in terms of prices, speeds and 3G mobile broadband penetration. From the report:

“Canada opened the decade as an extremely strong performer on broadband. Over the course of the decade, its penetration rates have grown more slowly than those of other countries, its prices have remained high, and its speeds are still low in comparison to other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)… Canada continues to see itself as a high performer in broadband, as it was early in the decade, but current benchmarks suggest that this is no longer a realistic picture of its comparative performance on several relevant measures.”

The report blames Canadian limits on foreign ownership, among other things, and calls for open access policies that would encourage network operators to grant competitors access to their infrastructure (others have called for similar programs in the U.S., which has its own competition problems).  The document prompted a kind of call to arms from The Globe and Mail, which this morning called for new regulatory policies and a “national collective will to compete” lest Canada get left behind in the worldwide digital economy.

Canada’s immense geographic size but relatively small population poses a huge problem, of course, and the government is providing subsidies to private and public organizations to extend broadband infrastructure to every Canadian community by the end of this year. But the country could also help itself immensely by adopting a national broadband plan that allows foreign investment and encourages more competition.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

The New Net-Neutrality Debate: What’s the Best Way to Disriminate?

Image courtesy Flickr user 416style.