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Rural internet download speeds slowly closing the gap to urban speeds, but they still fall well below the CRTC’s universal service objective

Press Release

OTTAWA, ON – July 13, 2022 –As Canadians rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to high-speed internet continues to be a challenge for many – especially in rural and northern communities. CIRA has been documenting this inequity by releasing an annual Internet Performance Test (IPT) data release that reviews the state of broadband across the country. CIRA’s IPT data provides residents, planners, and decision-makers with the evidence they need to address the digital divide that persists in Canada.

CIRA’s annual reports have consistently highlighted the stark contrast between urban and rural internet connectivity. While 2021 showed some improvement for residents in rural communities, with the median download speed increasing to 14.1 Mbps, the urban median download speed also increased significantly to 63.9 Mbps, again reinforcing the persistent digital divide.

This year’s data release focuses on test data collected over 2021, and the first four months of 2022, which shows that urban internet speeds continue to surpass rural speeds. Despite this, the gap between urban and rural speeds is slowly closing – a trend that will hopefully continue as governments increase funding for broadband infrastructure projects across the country. Additionally, for the first time, this year’s release includes previously unpublished data from 2019 on provincial internet speeds, deepening regional insight on the evolution of internet access across Canada and where the needs are greatest. Due to lower test numbers in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon, CIRA is not publishing territorial data at this time.

While the median download speed for rural areas has increased slightly from previous years to 20.9 Mbps in Q1 2022, in urban areas it has increased at a far greater rate, almost doubling since the start of the pandemic, to 74.61 Mbps. While this is a step in the right direction for rural residents, there is still a lot of catch-up to be done. Looking at individual provinces, this latest data shows that among people who ran a test, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia top the charts for fastest internet download speeds; whereas Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island appear to have the slowest speeds.

Key Findings

The findings below are reported based on IPT data results generated between January 1, 2020 and April 30, 2022 from a total of 183,926 urban tests and 185,193 rural tests. Provincial data covers the same timeframe, while the additional graphs below display data from 2019.

  • Rural internet speeds are slowly closing the gap with urban speeds: urban speeds are now just 3.8 times faster than rural over March 2021 to 2022, compared to 6.1 times faster during 2020-2021.
  • Up from 7.2 Mbps in 2020 to 20.9 Mbps in Q1 2022, the median rural download speed has nearly tripled since the start of the pandemic. Despite this increase, rural internet users still fall too far below the federal government’s definition of high-speed internet (50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload), especially considering the near negligible increase in upload speed to 2.2 Mbps in Q1 2022, from 1 Mbps in 2020.
  • Median urban download speeds continue to increase steadily, up to 74.6 Mbps in Q1 2022 from 47.2 Mbps in 2020. In 2018, the median urban download speed was 23.4 Mbps, still higher than the current median rural download speed, four years later.
  • In Q1 2022 the median download speed in Newfoundland and Labrador hit 84.5 Mbps, nearly 60 Mbps faster than it was in Alberta, which recorded a speed of 25.1 Mbps. Newfoundland and Labrador also held the fastest median download speed in 2021 at 65.3 Mbps, slightly over 50 Mbps faster than Saskatchewan’s, with a meagre 14.7 Mbps.
  • Atlantic Canada leads provincial median urban download speeds, with Newfoundland and Labrador topping the chart at 127.2 Mbps, leading New Brunswick and Nova Scotia at 106.3 Mbps and 95.9 Mbps, respectively. In 2021, New Brunswick held the top spot with 105.9 Mbps, followed closely by Newfoundland and Labrador with 92.6 Mbps.
  • Comparing provincial median rural download speeds, Alberta has the slowest across all provinces, with a speed of just 15.4 Mbps. In fact, both Alberta and Ontario with 21.6 Mbps, have slower rural download speeds than the national average.

This data was gathered using CIRA’s Internet Performance Test. Since the launch of the program, Canadians have completed over 1,200,000 tests. CIRA is currently helping dozens of local governments and organizations who collectively represent over 1000 communities across Canada heat map connectivity in their region.

Canadians can help promote faster internet for all by taking CIRA’s Internet Performance Test at performance.cira.ca.

Figures and Graphs1

Note: Multiple tests taken from the same IP address are combined to produce a daily average upload and download speed. This reduces the likelihood that a single IP address will significantly distort the data.

Additional Background

  • At CIRA, we do everything we can to help Canadians thrive online. Our team works to ensure that the internet is a force for innovation, connection, and trust. But we recognize that the benefits of the web have not been shared universally. That’s why we contribute our expertise, resources, and convening power to help solve the internet’s problems through our Community Investment Program with initiatives like our Internet Performance Test.
  • CIRA partners with community groups, local Chambers of Commerce, government agencies and more to facilitate the use of IPT for connectivity planning. These strong local connections and partnerships are key to building the test data needed to support infrastructure upgrades in underserved communities.
  • The 2021 federal budget committed an additional $1 billion over six years for the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) to increase access to fast and reliable high-speed internet for rural and remote communities, bringing the federal government’s UBF investment to $2.75 billion. No additional funding was provided in the Budget 2022. As these infrastructure projects roll out across the country, Canadians using CIRA’s IPT program will play an important role in tracking the evolution of internet quality and the impact of public investments, including the outcomes from UBF funded projects.
  • In Telecom Decision 2021-181 on May 27, 2021, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reversed their 2019 order that lowered wholesale internet pricing for independent competitor ISPs. The federal government upheld the CRTC’s decision in response to a petition from Teksavvy in an Order-in-Council released May 19, 2022.
  • In May 2022, the federal government also announced an Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on a Renewed Approach to Telecommunications Policy intended to promote telecommunication competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation.

Executive Quote

“The last two and a half years have really cemented the critical role the internet plays in all our lives. While the improvement in rural speeds is a step in the right direction, this report unfortunately still paints a grim picture of the state of connectivity in many parts of Canada. Continued investments in broadband infrastructure by governments, internet service providers and communities themselves will be critical make sure rural communities don’t fall farther behind.”

– Tanya O’Callaghan, vice-president, community investment, policy and advocacy

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 1,200,000 tests on the platform since May 2015.

About the Canadian Internet Registration Authority

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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