Sudbury

Feds promising broadband across Canada, but some say it's not even realistic for northern Ontario

The federal government has revealed more details of its multi-billion dollar plan to bring high speed internet to every corner of Canada by 2030. But some say it's not even a realistic goal for northern Ontario.

16 per cent of northern Ontario currently has no access to internet service of any kind

To become a truly competitive "smart cities", municipalities need to think of broadband as a service that's as important for residents as roads and water pipes, argues Kingston-based consultant Campbell Patterson. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Paul Trudel downloaded a software update for his laptop the other day.

It took 12 hours.

It didn't surprise Trudel, who is one of the 81 people who live in Gowganda, a remote northern Ontario village about an hour's drive off Highway 11. The community does not have access to high-speed internet.

He says high school students in the area have trouble doing research for homework and the hunting and fishing lodges in the area have trouble attracting tourists who want to stay connected during their wilderness holidays. 

Trudel has lobbied governments and industry to improve the service and was one of many northerners who took notice when the Canadian government promised broadband from coast-to-coast-to-coast in the next 11 years.

"I was very skeptical that that's going to happen. I hope so, because that would benefit a lot of people," says Trudel, who retired to Gowganda 24 years ago. 

The federal government revealed more details of its plan this week, with an investment in low-orbit satellite technology, but no word on what that could mean for the 16 per cent of northern Ontario that has no access to internet at all, let alone high speed service.

The level of internet access in northern Ontario is tracked by Connected North, a coalition of federally-funded local networks working with the private sector to expand broadband service in their specific corners of the region.

That includes the Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation, which covers Manitoulin, Sudbury and Nipissing.

Executive director Susan Church applauds the efforts of politicians on this file, but says the dream of high speed for all isn't realistic. 

"I'm not faulting anybody that is trying to bring that divide together. But we have to change the way we're looking at it," she says. 

"The reality in northern Ontario is because of the geography, because of the population base, we will never get near that."

Church says she would like to see governments invest in very specific local infrastructure, rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. 

North Bay-born futurist and technology expert Jesse Hirsh would like to see the federal funding given directly to cities and towns, who he feels should expand fibre-optic networks and provide high speed internet at affordable rates.

"I think in some cases subsidy isn't enough. I think the idea of a public utility is very powerful," says Hirsh. 

"It's not something that's frivolous and it really will have a return on that investment both in terms of economic development and the quality of life for people who live in northeastern Ontario."

Lory Patteri is the mayor of Bruce Mines. (Erik White/CBC )

Bruce Mines Mayor Lory Patteri feels the spotty internet in her town of 600 on the Trans-Canada Highway is keeping more people and businesses from moving there.

"You know 10, 15 years ago it was a luxury almost and now it's one of those essential services, like hydro or gas," she says.

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.