Push­ing to en­sure ru­ral On­tar­i­ans equal ac­cess to in­ter­net

Tillsonburg News - - ONTARIO NEWS - HEATHER RIVERS

On­tario’s largest agri­cul­tural group wants the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to help bring a ser­vice many Cana­di­ans take for granted – high­speed in­ter­net — to vast ar­eas of the prov­ince’s farm belt still strug­gling with­out ac­cess to it.

Farms, busi­nesses and even school chil­dren in much of ru­ral On­tario, in­clud­ing the South­west, have to get by on spotty ser­vice that hob­bles com­pe­ti­tion and op­por­tu­nity, the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture says.

The farmer-led 38,000-mem­ber group wants Ot­tawa to pump $100 mil­lion into pro­vid­ing high­speed in­ter­net ac­cess for ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas so both farm­ers and their fam­i­lies can ac­cess what they say should be con­sid­ered an es­sen­tial ser­vice.

“One hun­dred mil­lion is a good start to the big­ger pic­ture of what we need to get ex­ten­sive broad­band ser­vice to ru­ral On­tario,” said Keith Cur­rie, pres­i­dent of OFA.

The agri­cul­ture in­dus­try has a gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of $38 bil­lion and is the largest em­ployer in On­tario, he said.

“It cer­tainly war­rants hav­ing the in­dus­try ser­viced the best it can be,” he said.

The fed­eral re­quest will be part of the fed­er­a­tion’s 2019 pre-bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion to fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau.

Cur­rie said high-speed ac­cess is be­com­ing es­sen­tial to keep­ing up with tech­nol­ogy for mod­ern farm prac­tices.

“The in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy in agri­cul­ture to­day are sec­ond to no other and re­ally re­quires a lot of broad­band,” he said. “It is also used for mar­ket­ing. We are in a global mar­ket­place.”

Chil­dren also are re­quired to use it sim­ply to ac­com­plish their re­quired home­work.

“We have fam­i­lies now that have to take their kids to McDon­ald’s and Tim Hor­tons and places like that in the evening just to do school home­work,” Cur­rie said.

Ox­ford War­den David May­berry is a mem­ber of South­West­ern In­te­grated Fi­bre Tech­nol­ogy (SWIFT), a group in south­west­ern On­tario also work­ing to pro­vide equal ac­cess to high-speed in­ter­net.

Af­ter a com­mit­ment of $180 mil­lion from the On­tario and fed­eral gov­ern­ment – in what they call the largest pub­licly funded re­gional broad­band ini­tia­tive in Canada to date — they plan to start to con­nect 3.5 mil­lion people by late 2018 or early 2019.

“We’re fi­nal­iz­ing the agree­ment so the money can be­gin to flow,” he said. “We all know we need it.”

The rea­son for the gap in ser­vice, May­berry said, re­lates to the sparse ru­ral pop­u­la­tion.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to make a busi­ness case,” he said. “There are very few farms left mak­ing it in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing.”

But, he said, there is an in­creas­ing need for high-qual­ity con­nec­tions in farm­ing and else­where.

“Milk­ing and feed­ing equip­ment all need a cer­tain amount of broad­band,” he said. “At the same time farm fam­i­lies — like other fam­i­lies — need good con­nec­tiv­ity for kids to do their home­work.”

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