More federal money coming for rural broadband, minister says

Federal Minister for Women and Gender Equality, and Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef visited Guelph to talk to experts about the next rollout of funding for rural broadband internet.

Minister held meetings to get advice on next rollout of funding

Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield, left, and federal Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef with University of Guelph vice president of research, Malcolm Campbell, Feb. 21, 2020. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Getting reliable and affordable broadband internet to rural parts of the country will help smaller communities grow, which will end up benefiting the entire country, says Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef.

Monsef heard from researchers at the University of Guelph on Friday about how high-speed internet will benefit farmers and people who live outside of urban centres.

"The time to do this was yesterday," she said. "We've already begun. Part of what we want to do in this second phase of the rollout of federal dollars is accelerate the building and the connecting across the country."

She says meeting with researchers will help the government come up with the best way, and maybe find some shortcuts, "to make sure that the next rollout of broadband dollars coming soon will be shaped by their expertise and experiences."

"I'm restless," she said. "Infrastructure projects, they require, for all the right reasons, environmental assessments, engineering designs, somebody to fill out the application forms, but also for them to have the permits and the partnerships needed. All of these things take time and they take capacity."

Data 'locked within the farm'

Malcolm Campbell, vice president of research at the University of Guelph, said the research stations connected to the school generate data 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"You can imagine genome sequences of cattle and of crops. They have a large amount of data associated with them," he said.

"Right now, a challenge for us is that with all of that data that we're generating, we want to be able to convert that data, those discoveries, into innovations that make differences in real people's lives," he added. "If that data is locked within the farm, that's not helping us in that regard."

He says he knows it will take time to get rural broadband to all corners of the country.

"There's always a degree of incrementalism – just a small increment being made at a time – but something's better than nothing," Campbell said.

Internet boosts property values

Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield told the group taking part in the roundtable discussion about a business he was involved with previously that was just outside Guelph. The company couldn't afford to run fibre-optic cables for internet to its building. Three years later, another company in the area "made more noise than we did" and fibre was expanded to their area.

"Then we doubled the size of our building, we added a bunch of people," he said.

That's not an uncommon story for David Worden to hear. He's an economist with the Regional and Rural Broadband project at the university. He says when rural businesses and even individuals have access to high-speed access, they can thrive.

He says all developed countries are struggling with getting reliable broadband internet to rural areas and no one has come up with a perfect solution. But it's important to keep working toward the end goal.

"If you enable someone to have good enough connectivity at their home in a rural area, you can essentially allow them to work from home and you might be able to take a car off the road," he said.

"Property values is another thing as well. Some research that's been done in the past has looked at property values and how those relate to broadband infrastructure and have essentially found that broadband capabilities and connectivity is a positive influence on property value."


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