Canada-wide broadband could improve northern healthcare, education

On Wednesday, the CRTC declared broadband internet a basic communications service. Yet here in Northern Ontario, some are suggesting the government deal with access to clean water or cheaper hydro rates before investing in universal broadband.

Conflicted Canadians should 'look beyond Netflix,' says Sudbury internet provider

The PEI government had planned to build its own $30 million fibre backbone cable, which internet providers could connect to, and expand to rural homes from there. (iStock)

All Canadians will eventually have Internet access if the CRTC has its way. But not everyone thinks the country should be focusing on quick digital services.

On Wednesday, the CRTC declared broadband Internet a basic communications service. Yet here in Northern Ontario, some are suggesting the government should first be dealing with other pressing issues such as access to clean water in remote communities, or cheaper hydro rates.

"On one hand, we have a right to Internet access," said Sheena Larose, a social worker in North Bay. "On the other hand, people who live on [First Nations communities] don't have the right to basic needs of life. It just makes me question our country's priorities."

David Innes is from Sudbury. He says he can't believe high-speed Internet has become a basic right.

"What is wrong with these bureaucrats? Clean air, clean water —  that's a right that every citizen should have," Innes said.  "But access to high-speed Internet? They've got to get their heads out of the sand and think like reasonable people."

Not just for entertainment

Brian McCullagh is the director of business development at Vianet. He says Canadians who are critical of the CRTC's decision need to consider how the Internet could improve things like healthcare or distance education.

"We have to look beyond the streaming of Netflix ," he says.

"If you can have people [stay out of] hospitals because there's excellent bandwidth — and you can do remote diagnostics and video conferencing from home — you're going to save a lot of money. Or if you had a connection right into [the University of Toronto] from Northern Ontario, you don't have to travel. The big picture is if you keep more cars off the road, there's an environment thing that's better." 

Think fibre first

The communities that will benefit the most from this decision, McCullagh said, are the ones without a fibre backbone — basic technology that service providers can later build on to increase speeds and access to individual homes. He says these communities might have internet access through wireless technologies, but fibre optics will bring the speed the CRTC is hoping for.

"We see a continued build of fibre optic cable over the coming years to get fibre to every home," McCullaugh says. "The first thing you have to do is connect that community to a main trunk line that can connect into the bigger centres and get that bandwidth out there."

McCullagh says Vianet started building more internet access to rural Northern Ontario communities since the federal government's $500 million investment in the fall. He says the CRTC's promised $750 million over the next five years can only help.

"That's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of it across Canada, but it's definitely a start," he says. "I think once you start, you'll continue on until the project is done."