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Internet in Canada - Adoption vs. Availability

Success in broadband internet is often gauged by the proportion of the population that is connected. 

In 2009, 80% of Canadians were going online, 77% using a connection at home. 70% of Canadians surveyed reported having a high speed connection at home.  These findings are from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Internet Use Survey, which collected data from 23,000 Canadians.

The results of the survey were released in May and included a number of interesting results. A paper presented by Statistics Canada staff at a recent conference included some further analysis. 

Among the more interesting illustrations are two that show a dramatic increase from 2007 to 2009 in the rate of adoption of high speed internet by economic regions.


In just two years, several additional economic regions had at least 70% of the population using a high speed internet connection from home.

A complement to the survey data is found in the information published by the CRTC as part of its annual Communications Monitoring Report

The CRTC relies mainly on data reported by internet service providers to measure the number of residential internet subscriptions.  This information can be compared to total household counts to gauge penetration rates by household, rather than population. It also has more detailed information on the type or speed of internet connection.

The following chart shows the distribution of internet connections among Canadian households.

Source: CRTC CMR 2010, Table 5.3.3 and page 137.Source: CRTC CMR 2010, Table 5.3.3 and page 137.

This information generally corroborates the Statistics Canada population surveys, indicating about 76% of households with a connection, compared to 77% reported by Statistics Canada.  The CRTC subscriber data also indicates 72% with a high-speed connection, slightly higher than the 70% of Canadians in the Statistics Canada survey.

The CRTC subscriber data also indicates that 62% of Canadian households have a broadband connection (defined as at least 1.5 Mbps downstream). More striking is the fact that 45% of all homes, or nearly one-half, have a broadband connection of 5 Mbps or greater.

The adoption of broadband internet among the population may be a popular metric for gauging success. However, the availability of broadband internet has been the focus of most government initiatives, both in Canada and elsewhere.

The reality is that adoption continues to lag availability by a considerable margin. According to the CRTC data, broadband internet is available to 95% of households in Canada, excluding services available from satellite.

Nationally, 38% of households do not subscribe to broadband internet, which is more than seven times the proportion of households that lack access to such service.

In terms of rural communities, broadband is available to 84% of households, compared to 100% in urban.  However, the gap between availability and adoption is not that different between the two regions. Data on urban versus rural adoption is for high-speed connections rather than broadband but still suggests a gap of more than 30 percentage points in either case.

Provincial breakdowns between broadband availability and adoption indicate a similar pattern, with the gap ranging from a low of 17 percentage points in the North (which also has the lowest level of availability) to a high of 42 percentage points in New Brunswick, where broadband is reported to be available to all households. 

Source: CRTC CMR 2010, Figure 5.3.7

The availability statistics are based on primarily wireline broadband technologies. Recent announcements related to mobile and satellite technologies have the potential to make broadband connections availability to all households. 

However, the Canadian experience to date indicates that other steps are needed to close the gap between adoption and availability. More research on the barriers to adoption that are not related to availability would be welcome.

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