Rural residents, business owners near Ottawa demand faster internet

People in Mississippi Mills ramp up a campaign to bring better broadband access to their rural area. Residents and business owners have started a new working group to put together a formal application by April 20 to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's "Connect to Innovate" program

Mississippi Mills applying to federal broadband services program

Residents in Mississippi Mills, Ont., are applying to a federal program designed to boost high-speed internet services in rural and remote areas.

Tracey Brown says you don't have to go far outside the nation's capital before cell services get spotty and internet access slows down dramatically.

Brown, who runs a music company in the Ottawa Valley, is part of a campaign that's ramping up in Mississippi Mills, Ont., to bring better broadband access to their area.

"A lot of the time ... we transfer or ship CDs or hard drives out, instead of working from home, because our broadband is so slow," said Brown.

The lack of reliable internet is a constant source of frustration not just for business owners, but also residents and students enrolled in e-learning programs in small Mississippi Mills communities like Clayton, Middleville, Pakenham and Appleton.

Now, they've started a new working group that's applying to a federal program intended to boost internet access in Canada's rural areas.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada is investing $500 million by 2021 to bring high-speed internet to remote regions of the country. The department's goal is to connect institutions like schools and hospitals, along with so-called "last-mile" infrastructure to households and businesses.

Tracey Brown is a member of the Mississippi Mills Broadband Working Group. (submitted)

Ross Bartlett, who lives and works in Lanark Highlands township, said only five per cent of Mississippi Mills has access to broadband services.

"Even though we're only a half an hour's drive from the nation's capital, we're still living with a low service level," said Bartlett, who also sits on the working group.

"Speeds are quite low, and it's just not practical for any sort of a business."

Real estate deals falling through

Bartlett said real estate agents have told the group that sales are falling through because of insufficient broadband services — even though a lot of people want to live there and commute to Ottawa.

"It's almost like back in the day, whether or not you had indoor or outdoor plumbing. If you didn't have indoor plumbing, [the deal] wouldn't happen. It's a similar scenario here," said Bartlett.

The working group has set up a website and is asking residents and business owners to visit, register their internet speed, and describe how they've been affected by the lack of high-speed services.

Bartlett said their local MP and MPP will also be sending out surveys to all rural households, soliciting information about their needs.

He said the group should know by June if their application to the federal program was successful.

"The first installment will be put towards whatever we consider the best bang for the buck," he said.