As our lives have become increasingly technology reliant, residents of rural areas across the country have faced the “digital divide.”
Access to employment, education, and even a social life hinges on a reliable internet connection. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recommends a minimum connection of 50/10 Mbps. And only 46% of Canadians in rural areas had access to such a connection in 2019.
Since last year, the Municipality of North Grenville has been working to find ways to bridge this divide in Eastern Ontario. Mayor Peckford has been involved in the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s (EORN) Gig Project, lobbying for greater provincial and federal funding to help get underserved areas up to speed.
Of the project, Mayor Peckford said, “The urgency to invest in the Gig Project in Eastern Ontario is akin to the priority governments place on urban transit, without the same dollar figure. Quality of life, access to education and training, jobs, economic productivity, and the retention and expansion of local business will absolutely suffer unless we fix this problem for a generation now.”
While this funding is urgently required for our community, as well as the 113 other communities in the EORN, it is yet to be seen if it will come through, and how much of that funding will be allocated to North Grenville. Other options must be considered.
On July 5, members of the Community & Economic Development Advisory Committee met with consultants from CIP CommTech and Storm Internet to discuss the situation in North Grenville. Recommendations were informed by a survey that revealed that, “more than 90% of residential and 100% of commercial customers are unsatisfied with their current level of service.”
While residents of “downtown” areas in the Municipality, such as the core areas of Kemptville, Oxford Mills, or Oxford Station, are serviced at 50/10; households even slightly removed from those core areas are serviced with speeds as low as 5/1. A key finding of this survey was that, though respondents do care about affordability, reliability is what residents want and need.
Though prices for internet service across Canada are astronomical when compared to other developed countries, our residents are desperate enough to cough up the cash.
Mayor Peckford explained that two large Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Bell and Cogeco, self-drafted proposals for getting better connectivity to underserved areas. The Municipality issued letters of support for both proposals.
With this being said, more local ISPs, such as Storm Internet or Joe Computer, are key in ensuring access to all residents of the area. The smaller ISPs can get quicker local results, since their coverage area is smaller, and the business of a few rural clients is more significant to their business than it is to the larger ISPs.
Nonetheless, it seemed to be the hope of everyone in attendance at the meeting that the larger ISPs would go forward with their proposals, and perhaps rent tower space or fibre access allowances to the smaller ISPs.
A key piece in getting better service to underserved areas is involvement from the public and local businesses. CEDAC member Rick Tatchuk said, “We need to look at building more support out of the business community around these initiatives. And we have to fill the gap until we see the Gig Project come through.
But we can build pressure for the Gig Project, as well as some of these smaller initiatives, if we get greater engagement out of business in terms of their needs and priorities.”
Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times