It’s 2019, and people can use the internet wherever they are: on the bus, in a shopping mall, hiking up a mountain. But what city dwellers might not realize is that there are people in rural and remote areas across Canada who still don’t have reliable internet access.
Sixty-three percent of rural households do not have access to speeds that are considered standard: 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). If you’re shocked by that fact, you’ll be even more shocked to learn that no households (zero!) in our three territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, have consistent access to those speeds.
It is also much more difficult to get a cellphone signal on major roads and highways in rural areas. In addition to the annoyance of not being able to communicate with friends and family, there are potential safety concerns; in the event of an accident or vehicle breakdown, someone on a rural road might not be able to call for help.
The main reason for these major discrepancies is that rural and remote areas tend to have low population density. But that is no longer a good enough excuse. It is unfair for Canadians in rural and remote communities to be paying higher prices for less reliable internet and cellular service than those in urban and suburban areas.
In an increasingly technology-driven world, people who don’t have access to fast, reliable broadband services are missing out. It affects students who need high-speed internet to do research and complete assignments. It affects farmers who can’t use new technologies that require high-speed internet. It affects small rural businesses that want to be competitive. It affects retired individuals who want to manage their finances online. It affects families who want to keep in touch over long distances. And it disproportionately affects Indigenous people.
Lack of high-speed internet in rural areas discourages young people from pursuing careers in agriculture, and it encourages them to move away from their home communities. Youth are in the difficult position of choosing between staying in their communities or moving to a more populous town or city. However, if they stay, they might not have the same opportunities to engage in online studies or work.
This adds to existing challenges related to succession planning in farming and low numbers of young adults and families contributing to rural economies.
In addition to the scarcity of rural broadband services, there is also the problem of affordability. Most of the infrastructure and technology in place that would allow for rural broadband is owned by the big three telecom companies: Bell, Rogers and Telus. To make matters worse, Bell intends to scale back its rural internet plans by 20 per cent because of a decision by the CRTC this past August to lower the wholesale broadband rates the big companies charge to smaller providers.
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In recent years, governments have made significant commitments to increase broadband internet access in rural and remote areas, pledging to help those still without high-speed internet. All major parties made promises related to internet access in this year’s federal election campaign, and this past spring, the Liberal government committed $6 billion to connect all Canadian households to high-speed internet by 2030.
Now that the election is over and the Liberals will be forming government again, I hope that there will be some real movement on the issue of rural broadband and that it wasn’t an empty promise in advance of an election campaign.
This is not just an economic problem; it’s an inequality problem. Canadians are not all equally affected by this. We’re giving rural Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, northern Canadians, and others a lower chance of success in our modern world.
We can’t continue to push this important priority down the road and ignore a significant portion of the Canadian population. It’s almost 2020, and everyone in Canada needs broadband internet, no matter where they live. Period. They should not have to wait another 10 years.
The government must follow through for this sector of the population and ensure access to fast, reliable broadband service in EVERY Canadian household.
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