Help us out of internet 'Dark Age,' rural municipalities plead
Eastern Ontario network calling for $1.5B to speed up service during pandemic
A network representing dozens of municipalities in eastern Ontario is calling for a major investment in high-speed internet for rural communities where poor connectivity is hampering residents' ability to work from home or take part in online learning during the pandemic.
The initiative, called the Gig Project, is aiming for internet speeds of 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps) in areas that are currently underserved, according to a news release about the project.
The province committed $150 million to improving wireless access earlier this summer, but the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), which represents 113 communities, says it needs $1.5 billion to finance the Gig Project. EORN will be asking for help from both the public and private sectors to meet that goal, North Grenville, Ont., Mayor Nancy Peckford told Ottawa Morning.
'We can't wait 10 years'
Peckford said EORN recognizes it's a difficult time to ask for more money, but said the roughly half-million residents of eastern Ontario's rural municipalities need better connectivity since the pandemic has forced businesses, health care and schooling online.
"We can't wait 10 years. It is something that has to happen quickly," Peckford said.
EORN will be asking the federal government for additional funding for the initiative, she said.
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Peckford said many rural Ontarians are living with Wi-Fi that can only be accessed by one family member at a time..
"We are effectively in a bit of a Dark Age out here," she said. "It's very fragmented. It's frustrating, and we're giving so many residents in eastern Ontario a false choice to pivot to virtual services."
Remote learning no option for many
Peckford said some parents are being forced to send their children back to school in September because online learning simply isn't an option where they live. Some businesses have been unable to meet their clients' needs for the same reason, she added.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) set out new connectivity standards last year that include speeds of 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload for fixed broadband services. At those speeds, multiple members of a household should be able to stream, download and upload with no concerns.
Nearly 40 per cent of homes and businesses in eastern Ontario have an internet connection that doesn't meet that standard, according to EORN.
Peckford said the one-time investment, though large, is better than stop-gap measures that don't really fix the problem.
"In the long run I think we save money. I don't think this is about a Cadillac or luxury service. This is about treating internet in our society, across Ontario, rural or urban, as an essential service."