Taylor Vanderhelm is a JD candidate at the University of Alberta.
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), an independent public authority that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada, recently released a report detailing the present and estimated future state of the communications industry in Canada. The report offers several illuminating and surprising insights into the Canadian communications landscape and paints Canadians as leaders in the adoption of cutting edge digital technologies.
Titled Navigating Convergence II: Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications, the report contains a thorough review of independent research and perspectives from a wide variety of CRTC stakeholders. The first edition of the report was published by the CRTC in February 2010.
The report highlights a number of important factors and trends among Canadians. Interestingly, the report portrays Canadians as avid adopters of digital technologies, projecting traffic over Canadian networks to quadruple from 2009 to 2014, in contrast to global traffic which is projected to triple by 2015 according to Cisco Systems Inc. Additionally, according to ComScore, Canadians spend more time online than any other nation and are nearly twice the worldwide average of 23.1 hours online per month. Notably, Canadian television viewing trends have not been significantly affected by time spent on the Internet according to the TVB.
The evolving digital environment is significantly altering Canadians’ approach to consuming content, with convenience and flexibility being driving motivators, particularly behind the adoption of mobile devices. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of wireless subscribers is anticipated by eMarketer to increase to nearly 30 million from 25.8 million, half of which will own smartphones. Furthermore, Canadian mobile Internet subscriptions are forecasted by PricewaterhouseCoopers to spike from 5.5 million in 2011 to 14 million in 2015.
However, the surge in bandwidth intensive mobile device services has put the potential for a spectrum shortage within regulators sights, not only within Canada, but worldwide. The results of such a shortage would be poor quality and a lack of reliability for users, with networks needing to implement traffic management practices to deal with such over-demand. In turn, wireless data prices would likely increase. The report calls for carriers to pay attention to their current spectrum inventory and make appropriate investments based on future projections. Also related to spectrum shortages is the discovery that a small portion of users account for the a disproportionately high consumption of bandwidth. For example, Sandvine’s Fall 2010 Global Internet Phenomena Report found that 1% of North American upstream users are responsible for over 75% of downstream traffic. In the CRTC report, Cisco was also cited as finding the trend also applied to mobile data subscribers, with the top 10% generating 60% of mobile data traffic.
Another significant hurdle to the industry raised by the report was the support of original Canadian content. The Canadian Broadcasting Act requires that the Canadian broadcasting system maintain and enhance national identity and cultural sovereignty. With the globalized nature of the Internet, online digital content can originate from many sources and the report notes that enforcing Canadian content requirements is difficult since it is nearly impossible to regulate access to non-Canadian content. As a result, support for Canadian content may be threatened by the continued adoption of digital media by Canadians.
The CRTC’s report provides a detailed and valuable glimpse into the state of the Canadian communications industry. While many findings are hardly surprising, the report is full of enlightening statistics and raises important alarm bells on several key issues.