Election 2021: Rural broadband tops SARM's election wish list

·3 min read

Booting up rural high-speed internet is high on the wish list for Saskatchewan's small towns.

"There's a need for it across the country, but particularly in Saskatchewan, because we've got such vast areas with not a lot of people living in them," said Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities president Ray Orb.

SARM is doubling down on its stance that rural internet is an essential service — which has only grown more important as rural communities' education, health care and business shift online during COVID-19.

The three main federal parties are all pledging to kick-start the rollout of service in communities where coverage remains spotty.

The Liberal and Conservative platforms promise to apply a 'use it or lose it' approach to carriers who've bought spectrum rights, telling them they need to develop rural service or risk losing those rights.

Orb said that's a good direction. If big players aren't developing rural service, he wants them to make way for smaller internet providers to fill the gap.

The NDP's platform promises to declare high-speed internet an essential service, with plans to make it available for all within four years. The platform says that's an early step to creating a Crown corporation “to ensure the delivery of quality, affordable telecom services to every community.”

The Conservatives are also pledging for high-speed internet to be available for everyone by 2025.

Meanwhile, the Liberals say their plan will push carriers to reach "access milestones between now and 2025." The party's 2019 platform said the service should be available for all by 2030.

Those benchmarks can't come soon enough for Orb. He wants funding to ramp up in the next five years.

"I think they need to really rethink that (year) — 2025 is still basically four years away and I think we need to look at what's happening right now. There needs to be more funding now."

SARM isn't the only organization raising the alarm over poor internet and cell service. The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan has also called on federal parties to fix rural connectivity woes that affect farmers' business.

SARM also wants farmers to get sequestration considerations under the carbon tax, a better safety net for farmers emerging from a punishing drought, and more money for rural infrastructure.

Many rural roads and bridges are in dire need of repair and replacement, but "we haven't been getting a lot of federal funding coming into Saskatchewan," Orb said. "We don't think we're getting our share."

He said these issues highlight the important of consultation, especially because an early election prevented some priorities — like getting a carbon tax exemption on grain drying — from making it into law.

"There's some good policies and there are some that aren't so good for rural Canada," he said. "And I think, for whoever gets elected, consultation is important."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting