Broadband internet: Why speed is essential

March 22, 2017

A deadline is fast approaching, and it should matter to Canadians in every city, town and village across this country.

When it comes to broadband internet, speed is the name of the game for communities and their residents. It provides commerce, information, and the backbone for community services and personal interactions.

There are considerable disparities in access and capacity between major population centres and smaller or rural communities. The social and economic value of high-speed connectivity is set to explode over the next ten years, and unless we act now, those disparities will only grow wider and more serious in their implications.

The federal government has earmarked $500 million to implement or improve broadband internet to rural and remote communities, and applications to access parts of this funding are due by April 20. This is the “Connect to Innovate” program, or CTI, offered through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). CTI comes on the heels of the CRTC's declaration that broadband is a basic telecommunications service, which the industry must give to all Canadians.

As the Internet of Things rolls out in the near future, the average Canadian family will have ten to fifteen times the number of connected devices. Already the provision of healthcare and social services, the delivery and quality of education, the creation of jobs and the competitiveness of the Canadian economy increasingly depend on broadband connectivity, and this trend will only accelerate. Communities that do not have equitable access will be disadvantaged in all these areas.

Take the example of the “Connected Farm”, already on the horizon. Every cow has a device monitoring its health, activity and development. Every tractor has a wireless network delivering live weather, market and financial information. Field monitors record soil data and crop health, while identifying issues. Building environments are monitored and controlled remotely. Such a constellation of high-speed communications is what Canadian agriculture will need to remain competitive on world markets, a few short years from now.

What's true for agriculture will be equally true in manufacturing, transportation, retail, energy, and every other economic sector. Broadband will continue to be vital to their competitiveness.

At BDO, we work with businesses and communities of all sizes, and we've seen how disparities in access (and performance) can have tangible impacts on prosperity. Communities that don't provide broadband access will lose out on investment and jobs, and eventually lose their tax base and population.

To help spur action, we recently published a position paper on the issue – building an evidence-based case for declaring broadband an essential utility. As such, access to broadband would be the right of every Canadian, entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This goes well beyond the CRTC's position, but is a crucial step to ensure our innovation and competitiveness remain world class.

Download Our Position Paper Now

To protect the future of our communities, proactive and long term planning by municipal governments will be crucial to make needed investments. Planning starts with seeing the importance of the issue. By the time the problem becomes obvious, it could be too late or far more expensive to fix it. Other communities, and other countries, will have taken the lead – and the investment that goes with it.

Stakeholders at every level need to treat this issue like the essential opportunity that it is.

Federal and provincial governments need to adopt a more comprehensive approach to funding that expands the program to include all but the largest cities in Canada. While rural and remote communities are top of mind, inadequate broadband access is an issue for small and medium-sized cities and towns. As governments fund the development of the fibre footprint across communities, they also need to enforce open access to infrastructure - which ensures the investments will make a longer term impact.

Municipalities, regional bodies, and advocacy groups need to be proactive in understanding the state of broadband access in their communities, and applying to bring the required funds to their regions to make improvements.

Residents need to tell their politicians that this is an issue that matters to them, and ask them to make it a part of their mandate. Too often, jurisdictions aren't aware that current service levels may be hindering economic performance and productivity, or simply assume that there is no easy fix available to them.

And service providers need to support and trust open access rules will be applied consistently, which will create opportunity and new markets for the industry and create fair and open competition.

Broadband is an essential utility today, and it will only grow more essential in coming years. We all need to act now, before it's too late.

To learn more, contact your local BDO office, or Carlo Mariglia.

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