Windsor

Ontario program to improve rural internet connection finding many residents with no service

SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, has launched a survey asking rural residents and businesses how they currently use and access the internet. The results will be used to determine where future fibre-optic networks will be built in the region.

Rural high-speed internet project will use survey to help determine where to build new high-speed network

SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, is asking rural residents and businesses how they currently use and access the internet. (Shutterstock)

A government-funded campaign to improve internet access in rural southwestern Ontario communities is finding there are plenty of people who don't have any service at all.

SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology, or SWIFT, is trying to figure out the places that need a new fibre optic network the most.

To inform the decision, the organization, which received $180 million from the federal and provincial governments last year, has launched an online survey aimed at understanding access issues faced by rural residents and business in the region.

Ashleigh Weeden, communications manager for SWIFT, told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive that they've already received more than 1,000 replies from residents.

"We are hearing from a lot of people that they live in an area where they just don't have any [internet] service, or (they only have) service equivalent to dial-up," Weeden said.

Ashleigh Weeden is SWIFT's communications manager. (Twitter)

"Isn't that shocking that we have people ... [that can't] connect to a service that's as essential to the way we live our lives?"

When asked how residents and businesses without internet access are expected to respond to the online survey, Weeden said the organization is making paper copies available and has set up a toll-free number for those who would like to complete the survey over the phone.

"We need to know what people have available to them now, and what they do with it," Weeden explained, giving examples such as social networks, distance education and telecommuting.

"Is this (lack of high speed internet access) something that creates a barrier for you in your everyday life?"

Construction on the first stage of the SWIFT network, which will be built by third parties with funding from the organization, is expected to start in early 2018.

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