EDITORIAL: Feds stumble in extending internet to rural Canada

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High-speed internet service has become a necessity for Canadians who want to be digitally connected and competitive, yet such a service continues to elude a great many people who live in rural communities.

It’s not for a lack of political will that much of rural Ontario and Canada remains at a digital disadvantage. Two years ago, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that broadband internet is an essential telecommunications service.

At the same time, the federal government allocated $500 million over five years to extend broadband access to unserved and underserved communities across Canada.

Also in 2016, the Southwestern Ontario Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, was launched. It’s a $300-million initiative to provide reliable high-speed internet to rural communities, with a tentative completion date of 2022.

So what’s the problem? Apparently, it’s a lack of planning on part of the feds. The Auditor-General, in a report in November, said we need a national strategy to ensure this initiative comes to fruition. Without proper planning and budget allocation, the A-G said it’s unlikely the federal government’s promise to connect every Canadian will happen.


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The Auditor-General also determined that the initiative is underfunded. The feds have set aside $500 million over five years, but a government analysis in 2013 found that extending high-speed internet to almost every Canadian would cost between $1.1 billion and $1.7 billion.

Those who advocate for the rural community are deeply worried. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture says reliable Internet is necessary to support farmers and rural communities, noting residents and schools are at a competitive disadvantage without the digital service.

And it’s more than that, the OFA points out. Canadian farmers are among the most advanced in the world, and part of that leadership comes from their use of technology. Farmers rely on proper broadband connection to make their business decisions, to operate on-farm technology, to look for marketing options for farm products, to access continuing education, and to gather farm management information.

And so reliable high-speed Internet service is part of the infrastructure that supports the business community both in urban and rural Canada.

The president of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce last week nicely summed it up. “(Internet) is no longer what we would call a ‘nice-to-have’ service,” said Shirley de Silva. “It’s actually a critical requirement.

“We can’t limit certain groups from participating in the digital environment, like farmers, students and people in rural areas. They can’t just be left out.”

– Peter Epp

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