UN says Canada, U.S. falling behind in connectivity
When it comes to mobile communication, Canada and the United States are falling behind countries in Asia and northern Europe, according to a United Nations study.
The International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency based in Switzerland, measured the use of information and communication technologies in 154 countries around the globe.
Between 2002 and 2007, Canada slipped from ninth to 19th place, while the United States dropped from 11th to 17th, according to a report issued in March.
North Americans scored well in terms of fixed telephone lines and Internet usage at home. But cellphone usage in Canada lags far behind countries such as Finland and the United Kingdom, sitting instead alongside Bosnia and Botswana.
"The cellphone penetration rate is rather low compared to other high-income countries ... especially European countries," Susan Teltscher, head of ITU's statistics division, said from Geneva.
The United States, with 83.5 cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, was well ahead of Canada's rate of 61.7, but still behind many European and Asian countries that scored over 100.
The reason, according to Teltscher, is affordability.
Canadians have long complained about high-priced cellphone plans with multiple fees added on. The anger boiled over last year when Apple introduced its iPhone in Canada exclusively through Rogers Wireless, and customers launched an online petition protesting the price plans. Rogers responded by lowering its rates on a three-year plan and increasing its data allotment.
Teltscher adds that cellphones can appear more expensive in Canada because home telephone lines are relatively low-priced and include unlimited local calling.
"Local calls are free, which usually they are not in Europe, and that makes ... fixed lines more attractive compared to cellular phones," she said.
It's not just cellular mobility that has been slow to take off in Canada. The adoption of mobile cards for laptops and netbooks is still in its infancy in Canada.
The report should be a wake-up call for Canadians, according to one consumer electronics analyst.
"In the early days of the Internet, we were leaders in broadband Internet usage, we were experts in fibre optics ... but we're now behind the other G20 countries in terms of mobile (technology)," said Prasad Gowdar, a consumer electronics commentator and spokesman for PCM Interactive Inc., a Winnipeg-based Internet marketing firm.
"It sure looks to me like there isn't enough competition in the mobile space and that Canadians are paying for it in many ways."
But is having one cellphone for every resident a laudable goal? Do we need a society that is constantly connected to electronic devices at home, at work and on the go?
Gowdar admits that checking your Facebook page while riding a bus may not contribute much to the nation's collective well-being. But he says widespread public usage of the latest gadgets helps keep domestic tech companies healthy and competitive on the world stage.
"If we're not using these new technologies, then certainly we can't be innovators in this space," he said.
Four of the top five countries in the ITU study are in northern Europe. Sweden was on top, followed by South Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands and Iceland.
Further down the list, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore leapfrogged ahead of Canada and the U.S. between 2002 and 2007, as did New Zealand and Australia.
The study paints an intriguing picture of how the use of communications technology is changing in both rich countries and the developing world.
In developing countries, Internet usage was almost non-existent in 2002 but has risen sharply. In Azerbaijan, fewer than 1 in 100 households had Internet connections in 2002. By 2007, the number had jumped to 9 in 100.
In richer countries, many people are abandoning their home telephone lines and relying exclusively on cellphones or smartphones. In Canada, the number of fixed phone lines per 100 people dropped from 66 in 2002 to 55 in 2007. In Denmark, the rate plummeted from 69 to 52.