Rural regions are being left behind with respect to access to Internet and mobile/cellular service.
As a young professional – I choose to live and work in a rural region of the Great Northern Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador. People have classified me as a world traveller, visiting 27 countries around the world, while living and/or working in large cities that included London, England; Prague, Czech Republic and Edmonton, Alberta. My community in which I live has a modest high speed (DSL) Internet connection. I say modest because I called Bell when they were promoting upgrades to two free months of high speed ultra. The customer service agent seemed puzzled I would even think this service would be available when I asked for the upgrade. This is concerning.
Moreover, many communities and Towns surrounding me are not so fortunate. In fact, I commute 50 kilometers to work each morning to an office that promotes business and community development. Yet we do not have high speed internet access, which impairs our ability to service clients. We have a satellite connection, at best the result is no where near high speeds. The current technology servicing this region is most likely outdated and future technology plans do not sound positive despite promises to have a High Speed in all rural regions in Newfoundland & Labrador. The rural region will probably, with heavy government subsidies receive substandard technology; something cheap, which is not state of the art. For example an HSPA network may be installed with a low theoretical max downstream (ex. 7.2 Mbit/s), which won’t actually reach this level (realistically 2 Mbit/s). This service will be minimal and provide options like basic voice over internet protocol, try participating in a webinar, upload an image or watch a missed favourite television show and tell me the service is adequate. Government policies need to be developed to ensure that regulatory standards are met. Without proper investments rural regional development will continued to be stagnate.
How can businesses thrive in a rural region, like the Great Northern Peninsula if the infrastructure can not support innovation?
The community of St. Barbe has a ferry service to Blanc Sablon, connecting us to Labrador and other mainland Canada .From May-October, 2010, a total of 77,374 passengers (an increase of 18% from the 2009 season) used this service. The terminal at St. Barbe does not have high speed access or wi-fi. This limits vendors, impacts accommodation/trip planning and impairs tourism development for the region.
The St. Anthony airport provides an outlet for passenger traffic of approximately 18,000 people annually. Beyond air passenger traffic a number of people travel to the St. Anthony region. However, those travelling by airbus service, rental or personal car will be alarmed heading north to the largest economy on the Northern Peninsula, which has nearly 3,000 residents – there is limited or no cellphone coverage for nearly 50 kilometersl. This has an impact on those with busy schedules on business, planning their travels or requiring emergancy services. If one needed a tow truck, firefighter, police officer or medical personnel, how would they be reached?
There are many missed business opportunities. Rural regions simply can not compete on a fair playing field. We are already challenged with an aging population, sparse geographical distances between communities, and few permanent residents, resulting in a limited market. How are we able or the small business owner able to develop markets if they do not have tools to succeed? There are opportunities for businesses to expand into export markets, on-line selling, marketing, utilize the social media and adapt to social networking to build stronger communities.
In rural areas, the market will not result in either telephone or Internet services that are reasonably similar to urban areas in terms of affordability or performance. When asked directly, the Internet service or telephone companies claim a business case can not be made for this service. Yet the consumer knows how lucrative telecommunications is in Canada, as there is limited competition and frequent public subsidy. These companies benefit from rural regions retaining landline services and also purchasing a dial-up or slow broadband coverage, as infrastructure maintenance is much lower than installing and maintaining a ubiqutous network. TOne only needs to look to the richest man in the world, he owns América Móvil, which at 2010 was Latin America’s largest mobile-phone carrier, accounted for around US$49 billion of his wealth by the end of 2010 (Wikipedia). Rural economies need a national policy to supplement the abilities of companies to provide quality and accountable rural services.
As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Harper Government is investing $225 million over three years for Industry Canada to develop and implement a strategy to extend and improve broadband coverage. I only hope this is a strategy that maximizes the benefit for the end consumer and not throwing money at the larger internet providers without holding them accountable of our tax dollars. However, this is the government after all – One that is about large Corporate Tax Cuts, reduction of government services to rural regions (Service Canada Office closures) and certainly un-accountable.
Still patiently waiting for improved internet and cell coverage on the Great Northern Peninsula, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada and many other rural regions of our country.
Live Rural NL – Christopher Mitchelmore
Below is an article related to Canada’s Economic Action Plan for Improved Broadband Internet Access:
“Prime Minister Harper annouces major improvements to broadband internet access to rural Canada, as part of the Conservative Government’s Economic Action Plan”.
More Canadian families and businesses will have access to high-speed internet services thanks to a major new investment to extend and improve broadband coverage, part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced the next steps in the Government’s strategy to expand broadband internet access to unserved and underserved communities throughout Canada.
“The potential benefits of expanded broadband services are enormous, particularly for the thousands of Canadians who live in rural and remote communities,” said the Prime Minister.
“The jobs of the future will increasingly depend on people in communities like Thetford Mines having consistent and reliable access to broadband services such as distance education, telehealth coverage and new online business opportunities. These are services that more and more Canadians rely on; they should also be services that all Canadians can count on.”
The Prime Minister announced that the Federal Government has completed a comprehensive nationwide survey of broadband access to determine what regions have the highest need. The Harper Government will fund up to 50 percent of the costs for organizations selected to deploy broadband infrastructure and services to these areas.
The Government will begin accepting applications from potential private sector partners this summer, and will select recipients by December 2009. The key criteria for successful applicants include who can provide the best coverage at the lowest cost, create jobs, deliver within a set timeframe, and ensure a viable and sustainable business model for the future.
As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Harper Government is investing $225 million over three years for Industry Canada to develop and implement a strategy to extend and improve broadband coverage. The goal of this investment is to extend broadband service to as many remaining unserved and underserved Canadian households as possible.
As communities vary greatly in size, this program focuses on connecting households. This method also provides a clearer understanding of service availability for Canadians; the fact that a community has broadband access does not always indicate the service is available to individual households.
EXTENT OF BROADBAND COVERAGE IN CANADA
The CRTC reported that, at the end of 2007, 93 percent of Canadian households had access to broadband. A significant gap exists, however; only 81 percent of rural households have broadband access, compared to virtually all households in urban areas. While all households are within the range of satellite service, existing satellite capacity can provide service to only 1 percent of households.
IMPORTANCE OF BROADBAND ACCESS
Broadband technology provides reliable high-speed internet access for Canadian families and businesses. Under the terms of the Harper Government’s broadband strategy participating providers will be expected to provide broadband service of at least 1.5 Mbps to currently underserved Canadian households and businesses.
At 1.5 Mbps, a customer can make a voice call over the internet, download an audio CD in seven minutes, and experience video quality streaming/videoconferencing. Compared to lower speeds such as 256kps, at 1.5Mbps a consumer can use multiple applications at the same time. For example, a consumer can make a voice over internet phone call at the same time as downloading a document.
Reliable broadband access will also make it easier for Canadians in rural communities to take advantage of distance learning, telehealth, and online business opportunities. Each of these services is particularly important to those who live in remote areas where local services are limited.
The Government has just completed a comprehensive survey of Canadian households to determine where the gaps in broadband service are most acute. This summer the Government will begin accepting applications from potential partners interested in expanding broadband service to these areas. Final recipients will be selected by December 2009.
The selection process will primarily be based on lowest cost and greatest coverage. The applicants must be able to demonstrate a capacity to deliver within the timeframe, and to ensure a viable business model. Other factors will also be considered, including sustainability and future scalability.
>Successful applicants will receive federal support equaling up to 50% of their one-time costs. Such costs could include the purchase, adaptation or upgrade of equipment, hardware or software, long-term investments in network capacity (such as the lease of satellite transponder capacity), network deployment costs, and other costs directly related to extending broadband infrastructure.
The entire program will adhere to the following design principles:
- Private sector based application process: the Government will seek proposals balancing lowest federal contribution with availability for maximum number of households.
- Technical neutrality: All broadband technologies are eligible.
- Competitive neutrality: Multiple broadband service providers can apply.
- Multi-jurisdictional coordination: The program complements existing provincial/local initiatives and planned private sector expansion.
- No ongoing funding: One-time funding will cover the uneconomic portion of up-front infrastructure costs.
- Sustainability: Applicants must demonstrate that the proposal will be sustainable going forward.