A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Superhighway to nowhere!

It's the superhighway to nowhere if you don't live in a city or town” So says Connie Woodcock in the Toronto Sun , having written about this issue in the past in my blog here and here it was good to see this article published in a big city newspaper. The comments it gleaned showed the enormous divide that exists between rural and urban citizens, something that was also raised in the senate report on rural poverty referenced here . I will let Connie take it from here:-

“In six months of house hunting in rural Ontario, we’ve come to one conclusion that has become more inevitable the more we look: We have to move into town. We’ve looked and looked and looked but not a single rural property for sale in our area has the one essential without which we can’t work — high-speed Internet access.

That puts us on the wrong side of Canada’s digital divide.

Virtually all urban Canadians can access broadband easily and inexpensively. Thousands of rural Canadians — and not those who live in remote areas — can not. Urban Canadians can use their cellphones wherever and whenever they want. The rest of us can’t.

The CRTC held hearings last week into the future of broadband in rural Canada and whether it should be a basic service that must be regulated and available to all. The first people the CRTC heard from, naturally, were those who don’t want to do it — the big telecommunications companies like Telus and Rogers and Bell. You can guess what they said: Can’t be done; too expensive; market forces will take care of it … blah, blah, blah.

Several service providers said it was impractical, unnecessary and would cost $7 billion. A Telus vice president said the cost was too high and there are other alternatives. It’s enough to make you laugh, unless you don’t have service available and then it’ll make you cry. It’s the kind of argument which, in an earlier age, would have kept rural folk from having electricity or telephone service.

Indeed, Bell Canada, once the only phone service provider, dragged its heels offering private service, leaving many rural residents with party lines as recently as the 1980s. Having tried to do my job as a reporter doing fire and police checks on an eight-party line, I can tell you it was all but impossible. Bell finally finished upgrading just in time for the Internet age to begin.

And nothing much has changed. Now the big companies think I can get along without the kind of Internet service 95% of Canadians expect as their right. My house does have high speed access but I’m one of the rare lucky ones. Few others in my area do. Satellite service is available but it’s costly and unreliable and experts say it’s unlikely to improve significantly. Cellphone technology is even more expensive and unreliable. Yet we’re only a two-hour drive from downtown Toronto.

Ironically, the Internet is probably more important to people in rural and remote locations than it is to urbanites who have easy access to the whole gamut of cultural experiences. It evens out the playing field. Some kid in Iqaluit isn’t ever likely to see the inside of the Art Gallery of Ontario, but with broadband, he can tour the best in the world or get access to the same vast store of information urban kids take for granted.

This is also huge for rural people who need to be able to have the same business opportunities everyone else has. My husband and I couldn’t do our jobs without high speed. If you want to know just how desperately it’s desired, all you have to do it go into town to my local library any afternoon and watch the librarians refereeing use of the free wireless service.

This week, Liberal MP Marc Garneau, with whom I’m amazed to find myself agreeing, told the hearings if rural people aren’t guaranteed access, they’ll be second-class citizens. “All Canadians should have equal opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live,” he said.

He’s right. The CRTC must regulate broadband access and force compliance. Government subsidies would help and the sooner the better. Broadband needs to become the same basic right telephone service is to make sure everyone can access the future.

Republished by permission of the author.

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