Broadband access should be getting better instead of being threatened

Rural Canadians concerned about the government’s failure to improve broadband internet in those parts of the country can add the potential negative impacts of an Industry Canada proposal that will re-allocate spectrum to their list of worries.   Despite having a clear obligation to ensure rural communities have the necessary infrastructure to grow, it seems the Conservative government has no real plan to make this happen.   Now, Industry Canada’s consultation on policy changes in the 3500 MHz Band and a new wireless licensing process for rural areas could be setting up a migration of rural designated bandwidth into cities. The proposal also includes a low population threshold number to determine whether a region is rural or urban which will only muddy the waters and lead to decisions that defy common sense.

 All of this seems counter-intuitive given the potential this technology has for levelling the playing field between rural and urban Canadians.  Yet, despite the widely accepted opinion that rural access should only get better as time passes and technologies improve, reality is not keeping pace with expectations and things may actually get worse.   At the same time, there is no clear signal that the government even sees the looming problems or that they have any intention of doing something to address mounting concerns.

 It is difficult to decide which is worse, the potential for rural areas to lose parts of the spectrum that have been allocated but not yet developed , or the clumsy and unclear urban-rural  designation proposals  based on a concentration of people in a given area instead of overall population density.  Both have the potential to negatively impact what is currently available and also what can be made available to improve, or even simply provide, access going forward.

The designation confusion could limit rural communities from access to fixed wireless services - a technology that seems to be most appropriate for rural communities.   All it takes is on one population centre exceeding 30,000 people in a service area for that area to be designated urban.  A crazy example from Industry Canada’s current proposal has large swaths of Algonquin Park categorized as urban.

 An urban designation would then trigger a mechanism for the 3500 MHz spectrum to be used for mobile service and not broadband.  This has the potential to result in small, rural communities no longer having access to Fixed Wireless Services.  

 New Democrats are working to show the Minister of Industry where the holes are in this proposal and are calling on the government to get to work patching them.   We understand that broadband internet is critical infrastructure for northern communities to grow in the modern economy and remain committed to fighting to maintain Northern Ontario’s current level of service and ability to grow as well. 

 Despite the promise and the possibilities for digital connectivity to make location less of a barrier, too many Canadians living outside urban centres continue to lack internet access at speeds that are necessary to connect to the global economy.  Without proper access to high-speed broadband, Canadians in rural and remote regions are at a disadvantage.   This is why it is important to understand the challenges related to expanding this critical technology to northern and remote communities.  That way we can create policies that act as incentives and will ensure people in all parts of Canada are able to enjoy the digital advantage.