Addressing Rural & Northern Internet Connectivity
If you have attended any tech event discussing internet connectivity in the past few years, then you have probably heard of broadband internet access described as a basic and necessary service. According to the 2018 Canadian Internet Factbook by CIRA, 96% of Canadians cited high quality internet access at home as important. Despite this importance of broadband internet access, there are many people in Canada dealing with poor or no internet access on a daily basis in our rural and northern communities.
Let’s look at Ontario specifically. Northern Ontario communities are largely underserved when it comes to broadband internet access with limited, or no residential connectivity. Those that do have internet access often pay high prices and are provided with very low maximum download speeds, in addition to facing limited data capacity caps each month. This lack of broadband high-speed internet connectivity strains communities in terms of economic growth, learning opportunities, and access to information or news.
During the mid-90’s, the internet started to gain momentum in Canada, bringing with it the revitalization, disruption, and creation of new industries and jobs for the better. Communication became easier, people started to be better informed on important issues, and businesses could flourish by gaining access to new markets that weren’t available prior to the internet. This trend continues as better connectivity has brought about an application economy enabling disruptive companies like Uber and Shopify. In addition, it provides social value allowing people to access things like government services, distance learning, and more.
The overall economic outlook is currently strong for Canada, but that prosperity is often not available for the majority of remote communities. Rural and northern communities in Ontario and Canada often struggle to get basic high-speed connectivity, while the rest of the large urban centres across Canada have the highest speed broadband access service offerings available and are pursuing next generation 5G connectivity for even higher performance. This new and advanced 5G network will provide incredible connection speed and data capacity to support data-intensive applications like autonomous vehicles. A continued lack of the basic broadband internet connectivity for rural and remote areas will only distance these communities further from the rest of Canada in terms of economic and social well-being.
This is not to mention the lost opportunity in the multi-billion-dollar sectors driving the rural economy. Industries such as the agriculture sector stand to benefit the most from enhanced connectivity. Precision agriculture companies such as Ukko Agro are offering farmers the opportunity to become more efficient by making better use of data to manage and harvest crops. The technology and solutions needed to optimize the rural economy are here, but the barrier to leveraging solutions like precision agriculture lie in the low connectivity rates available to farmers in rural Ontario, where rural internet services struggle to transmit large amounts of data over a reliable network.
Private sector investment of broadband internet networks supporting rural and remote areas has been rare due to the fact that residential population densities are often very low. Telecommunication companies don’t offer the same services to remote areas primarily because of the obstacles present for building and maintaining the infrastructure. The ROI of implementing a network drops significantly when service providers need to offer wider coverage in more remote areas to smaller populations.
Through the Next Generation Network Program, CENGN will be supporting 3-6 month technology pilot trials that specifically address a northern or rural residential broadband problem, or showcase a new residential business model for rural and broadband internet. If you would like to receive more information on this program, please provide your information after completing the below 2-minute survey.
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