Many rural areas of Canada, including South Dundas, have long suffered with slow speeds since the advent of high-speed internet. Urban residents enjoy ever-increasing speed in the digital age, while rural residents have to deal with a patchwork of solutions to bridge the connectivity gap. Solutions that are less reliable and more expensive. As our society deals with the impact of COVID-19, the gap has never been more clear.
To remain at home and distance from others, technology has made it possible for society to still connect. Business, education, and government have taken to online video streaming to keep going. Families keep in touch through apps like Facetime, Skype, and Zoom. Even churches have embraced broadcasting online to stay connected. Which is possible, unless you live in the connectivity gap. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, if a family didn’t have access to – or could not afford – high speed internet, they could use the library, or Wi-Fi at any number of public places. Students could still access high speed internet from school. Not now with schools, libraries, and public spaces shuttered.
Commercial providers have not helped the cause of rural high speed internet, stating there is not a viable business case for the construction costs. These same arguments happened 100 years ago when telephone service extended to rural areas. Only government financial incentives helped speed that along. Band-aid solutions to rural high speed network construction, like the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, have been slow, expensive, and piecemeal at best. The announcement last week of the partnership between Ontario’s Ministry of Education, Apple, and Rogers to give iPads and internet to low-income students is another band-aid.
Reliable and fast internet – in urban and rural communities alike – is as important for the 21st century, as the electrical grid was for the 20th.
To get there will take more than piecemeal efforts. Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury. There needs to be a substantive national plan to ensure all Canadians – rural and urban – have equal access. It is very likely we are facing a global recession larger than the Great Recession in 2008-09. A large-scale, national, and expansive infrastructure project would assist economic recovery from the post-COVID-19 recession and ensure that all Canadians have equal access to high-speed internet, closing the gap once-and-for-all.