A matter of choice

Why would some people subscribe to a 25 Mbps broadband service if you could pay just a few dollars more to get a 50 Mbps service?

The answer is “Choice.”

People get to choose how they spend their money.

Phrased this way, most of you understand the options. However, I sometimes find that there are people who may have trouble empathizing with other people’s priorities, imposing their own selection criteria and preferences on others.

For some people involved in telecom policy issues, there is a belief that if the price of broadband was lowered across the board, then everyone would choose to subscribe to faster service. Taken to an extreme, let’s say prices were cut by 80% – people paying $75 per month for 150 Mbps service would have that broadband speed for just $15.

Under such circumstances, why would a lower speed option make any sense?


Not everyone needs 150 Mbps service, so shouldn’t there be an even lower price option for them? In the extreme example, shouldn’t there be a slower speed option available for $10?

Mathematically speaking, if a 150 Mbps unlimited service can be offered for some arbitrary price point – let’s call that $P – then presumably, a lesser service (either lower speed or lower monthly capacity) should be priced at some amount less than $P. Shouldn’t consumers have the ability to make a choice to save money if they believe the higher price service is more than they need?

The CRTC’s basic service objective is for all Canadians to have access to a broadband service with at least 50 Mbps download speed, at least 10 Mbps upload, and unlimited monthly capacity. The key phrase in that sentence is “for all Canadians to have access”, not for all Canadians to subscribe to such a service.

We don’t have 150 Mbps service available for $15, and it is highly unlikely that we will see such prices. But, I am trying to demonstrate why the CRTC’s broadband objective sets a target for universal access to 50/10 speeds, not for everyone to subscribe to such a service.

The broadband service objective is one of the most misunderstood and misquoted CRTC policies that I have seen. Academic reports across the country have cited the basic service objective incorrectly, and those reports led Toronto’s Chief Technology Officer to mistakenly report to the City’s Executive Committee that there are infrastructure gaps in one of the world’s best connected cities.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that some people choose to subscribe to a service with lower speeds than the CRTC’s objective. No matter what the price is for 50/10 broadband, some people will wonder why they can’t pay some amount less for a slightly lower speed service that still meets their needs.

It is a matter of choice, and such choices are worth preserving.

Our focus should be on connecting those who don’t have access at any speed. That requires development of a digital literacy strategy, demonstrating the value of safely connecting online.

As I have said before, “Some technology problems just might be handled better without more technology.”

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