Driving Canada’s productivity

The Canadian Telecommunications Association released a new report from PwC, “Driving Canada’s productivity: The impact of the telecom sector and its role in improving productivity” [pdf, 5.6MB]. The report is the latest edition of a regular series examining the economic impact of the telecom sector in Canada.

As we have been reading in the news over the past year, Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita lags other advanced economies and this is part of a decades-long trend. For example, per capita GDP cumulatively grew just 6.8% between 2007 and 2023, compared with 21.4% in the US, 19.6% in Australia and 11.8% in Europe.

Last week, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge said “The overriding objective of federal and provincial governments going forward has got to be to raise the productivity of workers.”

Against this backdrop, PwC’s new report predicts that Canada’s telecom sector will play an important role to enable productivity improvements in the economy, increasing Canada’s global competitiveness.

The telecommunications sector is an important part of the Canadian economy; in 2023, the sector contributed almost $81B in direct GDP and supported up to 782K jobs across industries. As the digital transformation of the Canadian economy progresses, the sector’s delivery of enhanced connectivity has the potential to contribute an additional $112B to Canada’s overall GDP by 2035.

In 2023, the Canadian telecom sector invested $11.4B in infrastructure. Capital intensity measures the proportion of revenues reinvested in capital spending. The Canadian telecom sector’s capital intensity (17.9%) is more than 20% higher than the United States average (14.6%), and 70% higher than Australia (11.7%).

PwC notes that the investments by Canada’s facilities-based service providers has led to 99.7% mobile wireless network coverage and 93.5% high-speed internet coverage.

A Bank of Canada discussion paper [pdf, 0.8MB] refers to a positive correlation between increased investment in digital infrastructure, the adoption of information and communications technologies, and productivity growth. As a corollary, PwC says “To realize productivity gains through increased digital infrastructure investment, Canada needs its telecom sector to continue investing capital.”

The report notes that the telecom sector is facing declining prices, high costs of borrowing, increased competition from foreign players (multinationals), increased operating costs and growing risks related to climate change. These challenges are not unique to Canada. PwC observed that worldwide telecom capital expenditures declined in 2023, for the first time since 2017.

Despite these headwinds, the telecom sector remains a key contributor to Canada’s prosperity through its impact on GDP, job creation and investments in digital infrastructure that drive productivity improvement. To sustain these contributions, Canada needs to maintain a regulatory environment that is predictable, transparent and equitable, with sufficient incentives to encourage investment in innovation, technology and infrastructure. This will ensure that network operators can continue to make the investments necessary for deploying advanced connectivity in digital infrastructure to support Canadian productivity and prosperity.

Maintaining incentives to invest is a common refrain on these pages.

Canada’s per capita GDP will benefit from continued investment in digital infrastructure. But, a healthy Canadian telecom industry is necessary in order to continue making those network investments, to provide connectivity through deployment of advanced digital infrastructure.

Investment in infrastructure will be key to driving Canada’s productivity gains, providing a catalyst for the economic recovery Canada so desperately needs.

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