Pushing to ensure rural Ontarians equal access to internet
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.”