Unrepresentative survey

Yesterday, the CRTC released a report by EKOS Research.

EKOS Research Associates conducted two types of public opinion research on telecommunication services in Canada and prepared a report for the CRTC. The first part of the report presents results gathered through a questionnaire that was completed by more than 30,000 Canadians. Between January 14 and February 29, 2016, close to 29,000 individuals completed the questionnaire. EKOS also administered the questionnaire with a separate sample group of over 1,600 Canadians representative of the population as a whole.

As EKOS acknowledges in the report, the “open” version of the consultation was completed by 28,794 individuals who “were self-selected and therefore do not comprise a random sample”. As a result, “the survey is not considered to be representative of the Canadian population and no margin of error can be applied to the results.”

The headline that CBC ran with said “Home internet is essential, but too pricey, CRTC survey suggests: Only a third of Canadians are satisfied with internet prices, while half are dissatisfied”. I’ve said before that I tend to question a survey that finds that anyone is satisfied with the price of anything. I’d like to see prices lower for electricity, gas, sushi, kosher food, tomatoes, milk, butter, taxes, cars and oh yeah, I would like lower internet prices, too.

But that isn’t what I picked up on. I noticed that despite kvetching about dissatisfaction with the price, the CBC article said all but 2% of the survey respondents – for the “representative” portion of the survey – subscribe to home internet.

That was a source of concern to me. The CRTC’s 2015 Communications Monitoring Report showed a take-up of 82% of households, but the EKOS “representative” study was reported showing a 98% take-up. At the time of the Monitoring Report, nearly 1 in 5 Canadian households didn’t subscribe to internet service, but only 1 in 50 members of the “representative” survey were Canadians without home internet. One would think the digital divide was solved if you read the EKOS report. [editor’s note: The EKOS study also has a category of “Home Phone Only” of 4% that needs to be added to the 2% “No Home Internet” figure reported by CBC. This would be consistent with adoption levels at various points of the report showing 91.4% – 95.6% adoption of internet. This would imply that well over a million new households went online in a 14 month period. That is not consistent with the public data reported by the 5 biggest internet services providers in Canada: Bell, Rogers, Shaw, TELUS and Videotron].

This survey was commissioned in January to help inform the CRTC’s “evidence-based proceeding on basic telecommunications services.” One of the key issues being reviewed in the hearing is “ensur[ing] that Canadians continue to have the ability to participate in the digital economy”. The Notice of Consultation states “the Commission will ask Canadians to provide their opinions on the telecommunications services they consider necessary to participate meaningfully in the digital economy today and in the future.”

How do we explain the CRTC publishing a study that missed speaking to Canadians who don’t have home internet?

The CRTC’s press release for the public opinion report quotes the Chair saying “Access to basic telecommunications services is crucial for Canadians to actively participate in the digital economy. Since the launch of this consultation, we have been researching and analyzing the vast amount of information submitted. Canadians have risen to the occasion and have been participating in great numbers.”

Unfortunately, the CRTC’s research and analysis appears to have missed talking to the Canadian households in the greatest need of being heard.

[Editor’s note: Clarification was sought from the CRTC in advance of publication of this post; the CRTC did not return our calls.

We stand by our criticism of the EKOS report commissioned by the CRTC to add to the record of the Basic Services proceeding. The report authors are not scheduled to appear to testify and therefore, the flaws in the report would not otherwise be subjected to testing. Although the survey was supplemented by focus groups attracting people from remote communities, the report failed to provide a voice to the majority of Canadians who are not subscribing to internet services.

From the outset, I have written that “Affordable broadband isn’t just a rural issue“. As I wrote at the time, before we answer the question about “where” the CRTC should be acting, perhaps we need to have a more clear understanding of “who” needs help and “why”. The EKOS report failed to provide that clarity.]

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