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New Internet Performance Data Shows the Staggering Scale of Canada’s Urban-Rural Digital Divide

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In April, rural download speeds were nearly 12 times slower than those enjoyed by urban Canadians

New data released by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) shows significant differences in the internet speeds experienced by rural and urban Canadians. The data was generated by CIRA’s Internet Performance Test and was submitted yesterday into the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) consultation on barriers to rural broadband deployment. Today’s release comes on the heels of a promise by Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef to speed up rural broadband funding distribution.

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The data demonstrates the massive gap in actual, measured internet speeds experienced by Canadian households in rural and urban areas. For example, in April, rural download speeds were nearly 12 times slower than those enjoyed by urban Canadians. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, internet speeds have fallen for rural users, and increased for urban users, effectively widening Canada’s digital divide.

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Key Findings

  • In April, median rural download speeds were measured at 3.78 Mbps, compared to 44.09 Mbps in urban Canada – a difference of 11.7 times (Figure 1).
  • Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, median speeds have continued to fall for rural users. Typical download speeds vary from 4 to 7 Mbps. Since February, speeds have fallen to 3.78 Mbps (Figure 2).
  • Urban speeds have actually increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began, climbing to an annual high of 44.09 Mbps in April (Figure 3). While urban internet users often have options to upgrade their service, options are limited for most rural users.
  • Rural Canadian upload speeds are, on average, ten times slower than urban speeds. Fast upload speeds are critical for video conferencing, cloud storage, and other popular productivity applications used by Canadians working and learning from home.
  • Overall, the median download and upload speeds for both rural and urban Canadians combined over the 12 month period were 17.56 Mbps download and 6.69 Mbps upload. These can be compared with other countries using M-Lab’s Visualization explorer here.

The data is based on testing data generated between May 2019 and April 2020 from a total of 86,706 urban tests and 31,734 rural tests. You can see our full CRTC submission here.

CIRA has partnered with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to collect real-world testing data to help the government maximize its investment in rural broadband and identify where the need is greatest. Canadians can help promote faster internet for all by taking CIRA’s Internet Performance Test at performance.cira.ca.

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