'A fraction of the speed': proponents of better rural broadband watching Ontario budget
Services like telemedicine not available in communities like Lac La Croix, leaders say, due to poor internet
The opposition provincial New Democrats say they'll be watching the Ford government's upcoming budget for investment in bettering broadband internet access in rural areas, as one northwestern Ontario First Nation says current service doesn't allow for basic modern needs.
Downloading basic documents from email can take about an hour at times with the bandwidth available in Lac La Croix First Nation, said Jim Windego, the community's director of operations. Lac La Croix is located about 100 kilometres southwest of Atikokan, just north of the Ontario-Minnesota border.
"It's supposed to be DSL but when you consider DSL [in the community] versus DSL that's offered in Thunder Bay, it's like a fraction of the speed," he said.
"I remember years ago having dial-up internet and it's slower than that."
The lack of bandwidth means that some modern technologies designed to help more remote communities, like telemedicine, aren't available there, Windego said. Clay Ottertail, who is with the community's elected leadership, added that it also makes things difficult for students and teachers in the First Nation.
"Our students need the internet services on a daily basis to complete their work," he said.
That's why the Ontario NDP says it is keeping an eye on the April 11 provincial budget for government investment in better rural broadband, said John Vanthof, the party's deputy leader and agriculture and rural development critic.
"One of the reasons that's holding back business in rural Ontario is access to affordable, usable broadband," Vanthof told CBC News. "One of the barriers to that is, where populations are low, it, quite frankly, doesn't pay private sector companies to actually provide that adequate service."
"So we believe that ... the government should step in to make sure to treat broadband as an essential service."
In 2016, The CRTC declared broadband internet a basic service and ordered Canada's internet providers to begin working to boost speeds in less urban areas. In the northwest, money from senior levels of government has flowed to improve internet in some fly-in First Nations.
Vanthof said he's looking for commitments in the budget to follow up on a motion he tabled in the legislature in November 2018, which was debated and, he said, passed unanimously, that supported rural access to high speed internet.
"The modern world runs on broadband," Vanthof said.
"It depends on how many people are accessing the internet that day," he said of how reliable access to the online world is in Lac La Croix. "The more people that are accessing it from our community, the slower the speed it gets."
"It's what everybody else takes for granted, it's like an everyday thing for anybody in any town and city but out there, it's like ... we're out of touch with the mainstream of the rest of Canada."