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CIRA: New internet performance data shows urban speeds improving while rural speeds plateau

Press Release

Latest Internet Performance Test data from CIRA shows that a significant digital divide persists in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPDATE: Since this press release was first issued, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced $72 million for five internet access projects in Canada’s north — the first funded projects from it’s $750 million Broadband Fund. You can see the details here.

August 12, 2020 – OTTAWA – New data from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) Internet Performance Test shows that Canada’s massive urban-rural digital divide persists during the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the median download speeds received by rural Canadians was roughly 10 times slower than those experienced by their urban counterparts, while urban internet performance has steadily improved and outpaced rural improvements since the pandemic began.

In early May, Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef announced that the government would accelerate the rollout of its $1.7 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) to help improve rural internet access, and promised in June that the fund would be launched “in the coming days.” To date, neither the federal government’s $1.7B UBF nor the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s $750M Broadband Fund have announced any funded internet access projects. Since March, nearly twenty communities have partnered with CIRA to better understand internet access in their local area.

Key Findings:

  • Between March and July, urban internet users saw an average download speed increase of about 25 Mbps, while rural speeds have not notably improved.
  • In July, median rural download speeds were measured at 5.62 Mbps, compared to 51.54 Mbps in urban Canada – a difference of approximately 10 times (Figure 1).
  • Since the pandemic began, median download speeds have plateaued around 5.5 Mbps for rural internet users (Figure 2).
  • Measured urban download speeds have nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic. In March, the median download speed was 26.16 Mbps, compared to 51.54 Mbps in July.
  • For rural users, median upload speeds are consistently 10 times slower than urban speeds, on average, and have been on the decline since the pandemic began (falling from 1.2 Mbps in March to 0.90 Mbps in July).

The data is based on test results generated between May 2019 and July 2020 from a total of 130,794 urban tests and 56,982 rural tests. Since the launch of CIRA’s Internet Performance Test, Canadians have completed over 720,000 tests. Canadians can help promote faster internet for all by taking CIRA’s Internet Performance Test at performance.cira.ca.

Figures and Graphs

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Communities Taking Action

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, CIRA has partnered with 18 new communities to assess the quality of local broadband connectivity using the Internet Performance Test. There are nearly 150 communities in total working with CIRA to measure internet performance across Canada, including:

  • Kelowna, British Columbia
  • Strathcona County, Alberta
  • Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation, Northern Ontario
  • Durham Region, Ontario
  • Pictou County, Nova Scotia

CIRA’s Smart Community Performance Testing program helps local governments and organizations heat map the quality of internet in their region, and identify where connectivity upgrades are most urgently needed. If your organization would like to partner with CIRA to discuss how the program works, feel free to get in touch here.

Executive Quote

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put Canada’s reliance on high-quality broadband into sharp relief, and, unfortunately, today’s data shows that rural internet users are falling behind in terms of speed and quality. We eagerly await the first funding announcements from the government’s Universal Broadband Fund and the CRTC’s Broadband Fund. We urge the federal government, CRTC, and local levels of government to expedite the rollout of broadband funding to help ensure all Canadians have access to faster internet as soon as possible.”

-Byron Holland, CIRA’s president and CEO

About CIRA’s Internet Performance Test

CIRA’s Internet Performance Test is one of the most advanced tests of internet speed and quality available and has the public interest at its core. The test nodes are located in internet exchange points in Tier 1 Canadian cities, rather than within an ISP’s own network architecture. This allows CIRA to measure the actual performance of an internet connection to an “off-net” server in real network conditions, closely representing the true internet experience of Canadian users. To assess internet performance, CIRA uses the Network Diagnostic Test (NDT) developed by M-Lab. The platform allows Canadians to test the quality of their internet connections – including metrics for speed, latency, jitter, and packet loss. Canadians have performed over 720,000 tests on the platform since May of 2015.

About CIRA

CIRA is a member-based, not-for-profit organization best known for managing the .CA top-level internet domain name on behalf of all Canadians. While CIRA’s core mandate is the safe, stable, and secure operation of the .CA domain and its underlying technologies, the organization also connects, protects, and engages the internet community in Canada and beyond by providing high-quality registry, DNS, and cybersecurity services.

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