CBC's Marketplace Puts Canadian Broadband Speeds to the Test

Last week, CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) aired a segment of Marketplace that delved into the intricate, technical dance required to achieve broadband speeds in for internet services in Canada.  Marketplace is more of a consumer advocate, anti-corporate expose show than anything else, and it’s often a delightful bit of entertainment, wrapped up in good-to-know news bits.
You know you are mainstream when you are featured, either negatively or positively on Marketplace. ;-) What you don’t want to have is Wendy Mesley or Erica Johnson sniffing around your recycling.

The Marketplace investigators hit the streets of Toronto (albeit, a very old street, where you can tell that the squirrels have had the past few decades to wreak havoc with copper phone lines) to interview a variety of folks who have *high speed* internet services, but are stuck with low speed downloads.


Bell, Rogers, TELUS and Shaw were pitted, head to head against each other in a battle of the downloads. Using the snappy pause button on my PVR, I was able to actually catch the download speeds:

  • Rogers was the fastest, with an average download speed over 800 kb/s - but we couldn’t tell what neighbourhood it was…
  • TELUS and Shaw were fairly even with over 600 kb/s - and that’s pretty darned impressive, considering they were using different technologies, and it would have likely been a TELUS DSL service, unless it was one of the nifty new Toronto condos that is wired for TELUS….
  • Bell came in last, not terribly surprising, but with a speed of less than 70 kb/s

Erica Johnson managed to snag an unsuspecting Bell spokesperson to speak to the disparate speeds, and the marketing use of “up to” in selling broadband internet services… The Bell rep didn’t stand a chance. Her next step was to call Bell tech support, to see if she couldn’t resolve the speed issue with a wee upgrade or tweak. Alas, it’s the 21st century, and tech support has dropped to the level of fast food servers in most cases. Nuff said. Hey - I was in tech support, but in the ’90s. It was different then.  Erica was able to finally reach a 2nd level technician, who was able to confirm that the slow speeds with Bell were a direct result of the resident being FAR from the Bell C.O. Of course, they didn’t spell it out like that, but that was the general jist.

The Marketplace coverage was fairly decent.  Of course, they didn’t play fair with Bell, but that just makes better viewing pleasure for the folks at home.  They did indeed share a few of the gotchas of trying to get high speed, [computer hardware, quality of installed copper or co-ax lines into your house, your distance to the service provider’s high speed equipment, how many folks in your neighbourhood are on the internets at the same time] and if even 15% of the watchers have a better understanding that it’s more than just the *service provider* who is responsible for the speed, or lack thereof, then I believe their mission has been a success.

Funny - over at the CBC’s website for Marketplace, there have been 155 comments left so far in response to the Broadband Internet episode. Ranging from hard core tech folks poking holes in most of the story, to quite a few irate folks complaining about Erica Johnson’s faux pas of driving and talking on a cell phone. The comments are even better than the original story. Such is life.