Small businesses and home office workers may get solid figures on the real Internet speeds they can expect from providers if the federal telecom regulator gets its way.

The Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is about to start formal talks with the industry on expanding a test it has been running in Western Canada to measure and publish the actual download and upload speeds residents get in their homes over wired connections.

Commission vice-chair Peter Menzies told the annual Canadian ISP Summit on Tuesday that a national broadband measurement program will help Internet providers confirm their network performance and build trust with consumers.

Data gathered will also help the CRTC have firm data to set policies – in 2011 it set a target for ISPs to offer all households in the country at least 5 Mbps download speeds by 2015.

CRTC vice-chair Peter Menzies spoke at the Canadian ISP Summit on Tuesday. (Photo by Howard Solomon)
CRTC vice-chair Peter Menzies spoke at the Canadian ISP Summit on Tuesday. (Photo by Howard Solomon)

It may want to revise number, or it may want to make a mandatory speed minimum incumbent carriers have to offer consumers as part of basic phone service.

People are hungry for broadband, he noted. In fact, he said, in Britain it is not uncommon for people to hire a third party to measure actual broadband speeds in a home they’re looking to buy.

That’s because some people find there’s quite a difference between the maximum speeds carriers advertise consumers can get – under ideal conditions, which may depend on how many people are in the neighbourhood are online – and what they really get.

The commission is proposing the expanded test will be conducted on subscribers of large carriers, like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus using special home data collecting boxes paid for by the regulator. Carriers will also be asked to put up the cost of collecting that data, which Menzies said would be “more than reasonable.”

Metrics captured would not only be speeds but also data latency, connection availability, packet loss and time required to access popular Web sites.

A commission official with Menzies who spoke to a reporter on background said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. and Ofcom in Britain do similar testing and public reporting to say ‘this is the state of broadband in the country.’

Initially the test would involve “a few thousand homes,” he said.

Canadian’s demand for broadband “is almost insatiable,” Menzies noted, so it’s proper for the commission to get empirical data on ISP performance across the country.

However, it will be quite a while before numbers are published. First certain details have to be worked out with carriers in talks to be held in the coming weeks. Menzies hopes the expanded test will start in urban areas of the country in the spring.

Independent Internet providers will join the program later.

“We look forward to hearing the details” of the broader test proposal,” Jonathan Daniels, Bell’s vice-president of regulatory law, said in an interview. Bell has a number of questions, he said, including making sure data captured from DSL modems that its subscribers use will be identical to data captured from modems used by cable providers.

“The devil’s in the details.”

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