By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
Reset the modem. Reset the router. Reset them again. Wonder why your video still isn’t playing and contemplate whether you want to spend an estimated wait time of 20-30 minutes for your internet to work? If this sounds familiar, chances are you also have rural internet.
I feel like I write about this too much, but the reality is, slow and expensive broadband is one of the major factors holding back rural development. In most of the farms and acreages within the Banner’s coverage area, options are limited and expensive.
On July 16, the federal government launched Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, which will spend $6 billion to help every Canadian access high-speed internet, with a minimum speed of 50 Mbps upload and 10 Mbps download. A download speed of 50 Mbps was identified by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as the minimum speed required for Canadians to take advantage of cloud-based software applications, multiple government services (such as telehealth services or business support), online learning resources and high-definition streaming videos. This is also the required speed to support multiple simultaneous users.
This target is still out of reach for many rural Manitobans. According to the Government of Canada’s National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map, most residents in the Banner’s coverage area are a long way off this target. We have to settle for having 75 to 100 percent coverage at the 5/1 Mbps level. On a good day, a recent speed test put my rural home internet at 15.2 Mbps upload and 1.2 Mbps download. At times, it’s painful to use.
A key tool in developing high-speed internet across Canada will be the new Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), which will support broadband projects across the country. The government said the fund is designed to meet the unique needs of rural and remote communities and will be informed by feedback from Canadians, as part of their roadmap for supporting strong and resilient rural communities through economic development. I’m glad this is being recognized as a key economic development issue.
The pace of technological proliferation is rapid and it’s essential that rural broadband continues to advance. It wasn’t long ago that 5/1 was considered acceptable, but those days are gone. Whether it’s to access business services or precision ag, the rural economy needs broadband to keep expanding, in terms of both speed and access.
A study found that historically in Canada, broadband deployment has resulted in the growth of both employment and average wages, particularly in rural regions. The study also estimated that providing new broadband access in places that were previously without would increase employment growth and average wage growth in service industries by 1.17 and 1.01 percentage points respectively per year. Rural communities can’t pass this up.
As rural communities are looking for ways to adapt to changing economic realities, access to broadband internet gives them access to new customers, new products and services, new ways of doing business and new options. The ability to fully participate in the economy is essential if communities want to not just survive, but also attract and retain talent in order to grow.
Rural Manitoba will never have the same quality, quantity or price of broadband access as say, downtown Toronto, but in the same way that electrification was brought to all rural communities because it was a necessary utility, the same is true of broadband. The days of high-speed internet being a luxury are over, it’s vital to participate in today’s economy.