As many readers know, I am a strong advocate for greater access to technology in classrooms and also for greater access to fast, reliable and affordable rural broadband internet service. I believe that by giving our students the technology resources they need to learn effectively in a 21st Century classroom, combined with fast and reliable internet access; it will not only create opportunities for them as they grow, it will strengthen our community as a whole. In the last few years there have been some gains in both of these areas, but without continued focus and pressure from residents in our community, our politicians will continue to underestimate the incredible community and economic value that true high-speed broadband connectivity offers. If we are not able to convince our leaders and decision makers to take the time to educate themselves and also motivate them to play a strong leadership role in this area, our community will be left behind to collect digital dust!
The lack of fast and reliable rural broadband has far greater impacts than just the inconvenience and frustration caused by the constant buffering of your favourite YouTube videos. Having access to high-speed broadband offers residents numerous community benefits such as greater accessibility to services for all residents, but in particular those with mobility issues; improved healthcare delivery; increased educational opportunities and perhaps the greatest benefits are with economic development. Not only will existing businesses continue to thrive, there will virtually limitless new opportunities for businesses and individuals to create new products and services to offer to the world. These new opportunities can generate valuable export revenues while having only a negligible environmental impact.
Fortunately, some politicians are not content to live with 1990’s dial-up speeds. Allan Thompson, Mayor of Caledon, Ontario wrote an article titled Connecting rural Canada that was published in the National Post.
Connecting Rural Canada – Photo Credit Matthew Sherwood for National Post
In his article, Mayor Thompson includes the following quote from Prime Minister Trudeau.
A Liberal government will also help municipalities fund investments to make better use of data and technology. In rural communities, we can — and should — aim much higher than the government’s current broadband access goals. And across Canada, improved wireless and digital technologies can make life easier — and businesses more productive. Municipalities cannot shoulder that burden alone. The federal government must be a strong partner as municipalities prepare for the future. – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a campaign speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on June 5, 2015.
Prime Minister Trudeau is correct, the current definitions and goals are already past their ‘best before date‘. In Canada, broadband is defined as a download speed of 5 Mbps, whereas last year in the US the FCC changed its definition of broadband from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps. Canada must also adopt at least 25 Mbps as the new standard definition of broadband internet service. It should perhaps consider setting goals for even higher speeds such as 35 Mbps, 50 Mbps, or even 100 Mbps, so that we can sufficiently transform our digital economy and step out from under the massive economic shadow cast by the United States.
This past Monday I met with MP Mike Bossio who represents the riding of Hastings–Lennox and Addington and is also the Chair of the National Rural Caucus. We discussed a wide variety of topics related to rural broadband delivery, a number of which are mentioned in this blog post. It was quite refreshing to listen to a politician that not only had a deep understanding of the technology and issues, but is also motivated to find solutions that are transparent and accountable to the public.
I firmly believe that we must look for new methodologies that approach the current broadband issues and funding solutions from a fundamentally different perspective; otherwise we will still be having this conversation 10 years from now. It seems pointless to use the same old models where governments enter into secret agreements with private corporations giving them hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars with little or no accountability.
Broadband internet should be considered a utility as it is an essential service and regardless of whether the service is provided by a public or private utility company, there needs to be well defined regulation to ensure that minimum basic standards are offered and more importantly that these standards are met. If service providers are selling internet services based on “up to” speeds, there needs to be regulation to specify that on average, the speeds delivered must be close to those advertised. For a variety of reasons there may be times where the “up to” speed is not met, but the consumer must have a reasonable expectation that on average they will receive close to the advertised speed, otherwise consumers are being scammed.
Consumer Scam Definition:
A deceptive sale of goods or services to a consumer designed to extract money unreasonably excessive given the services rendered or goods provided.
Private businesses will not infill service gaps or improve existing services unless there is a compelling business case to do so. One of the most compelling cases is the presence of healthy competition, but this is sadly lacking in Eastern Ontario and in many other regions across Canada. The distribution of tax dollars to a very small number of corporations has not increased competition; to me it seems to have had the opposite effect. Instead of our tax dollars helping to increase competition, our tax dollars have actually helped to entrench monopolies.
It is also important that politicians and taxpayer funded groups like EORN to stop making statements such as “93% of residents have broadband coverage“. Not only are they inaccurate, they are extremely misleading. Statements like these are based on theoretical coverage maps and do NOT reflect the actual reality on the ground. For example, according to the coverage maps, I am supposedly able to receive download speeds of “up to” 10 Mbps from my ISP, Xplornet Communications Inc. and despite the fact that my signal to the tower is good, Xplornet is only able to consistently deliver approximately 2 Mbps (20% of the package speed). Theoretically, according to the computer models I have access to broadband internet, but the reality is that true broadband and all its benefits are not available to me.
In previous centuries, our governments invested in critical infrastructure such as roads and bridges to connect residents and facilitate trade. When they did this, they did not hand out millions of dollars to private companies and say, “here go build a road and when you are done, you can charge users whatever you want”. Instead of doing this, they built the infrastructure and retained the assets for the continued benefit of the community that funded the construction. Retaining ownership gives the community control over service offerings and service levels. Using the road analogy, governments can decide if they want to deliver services such as repairs and snow clearing directly, or contract out those services. If the roads are not being plowed to the required standards, then the contractor can be replaced as needed. The same applies with broadband internet which is the critical infrastructure of the 21st Century. If you have control of the assets, you have control of the service levels.
Brighton has significant issues with traditional infrastructure such as drainage and wastewater treatment. These are issues that need to be addressed, but they should not consume so much of Council’s time and Municipal resources that strategic planning for our community is ignored. I agree that we need the federal and provincial governments as strong partners, but our municipal government must take a lead role to ensure that the residents of Brighton have access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband internet services.
The following are links to some very interesting and informative documents and articles. Some are from the US, but the issues and solutions are still applicable here in Canada. I encourage all residents (urban and rural) to click on some of the links and take some time to inform yourselves on the issues and opportunities and then engage with your neighbours and elected officials at all levels of government. By doing so, your efforts will help to ensure that our community is not constantly playing catch-up to the rest of the country and the world.
If our community is to remain economically viable in the 21st Century, we MUST become leaders instead of being content to follow. It seems apparent to me, that any real solutions to the current rural broadband issues will only come through municipal and community partnerships.
Broadband Access in Rural Canada:
The role of connectivity in building vibrant communities
Broadband has the power to transform Rural Canada. Connectivity is now as important as roads and bridges to the sustainability of rural and remote communities, and to the success of rural institutions and organizations. The so-called ‘broadband gap’ remains a reality throughout Rural Canada, with lower average speeds compared to urban centres, and with limited connectivity in the most remote regions.
Connecting 21st Century Communities
A Policy Agenda for Broadband Stakeholders
The development of fast, affordable, and reliable broadband Internet for communities often requires a wide range of stakeholders contributing in a variety of ways, from providing a broadband-friendly regulatory climate, to demonstrating the value of networks, to empowering key voices.
Community Based Broadband Solutions
by Executive Office of the President
Affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. Upgrading to higher-speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem. As this report describes, while the private sector has made investments to dramatically expand broadband access in the U.S., challenges still remain. Many markets remain unserved or underserved. Others do not benefit from the kind of competition that drives down costs and improves quality. To help fill the void, hundreds of towns and cities around the country have developed their own locally-owned networks. This report describes the benefits of higher-speed broadband access, the current challenges facing the market, and the benefits of competition – including competition from community broadband networks.
What Fiber Broadband can do for Your Community
In a century of telephone communications, the bandwidth on voice channels changed very little. Today, however, Internet bandwidth needs are growing exponentially. Cisco Systems estimates that global Internet traffic in 2018 will be equivalent to 64 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005.
Telecommuting and home-based businesses are on the rise, too. A quarter of all owners of home-based businesses say they could not operate without fiber to the home, and telecommuters say their employers would be less likely to let them work from home without fast, reliable fiber broadband.
Building the Benefits of Broadband
By providing a secure, flexible and convenient way to connect with people, broadband applications help individuals and businesses acquire information that is useful in their daily lives, thereby improving their efficiency and productivity. Numerous studies show that a strong link exists between broadband growth and rapid economic development.
Chattanooga’s super-fast publicly owned Internet
“People understand that high-speed Internet access is quickly becoming a national infrastructure issue just like the highways were in the 1950’s,” Berke said. “If the private sector is unable to provide that kind of bandwidth because of the steep infrastructure investment, then just like highways in the 1950’s, the government has to consider providing that support.” – Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke
Do you have issues with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that they have not been able to resolve? If so, file a complaint with the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS)