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Rural internet in Canada

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For years, rural broadband in Canada has been a mythical luxury that only the urban expatriates amongst us have been able to enjoy. Investments in infrastructure by the major telecommunications providers has been a patchwork of solutions and quite honestly downright pathetic. Disparities between provinces are stark and while there are leaders, much of even Canada’s largest are either disconnected or underserved.

In communities like Chatham Kent, in southwestern Ontario, you’d expect that just about everyone would be able to get some form of reliable, fast, internet service. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth? Service to urban centers is improving, albeit slowly, but surrounding areas are served with either fixed wireless or cellular options. Both are expensive, unreliable, and slow.

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Image by Mary Berg from Pixabay in Chatham Kent, Ontario

The further you get outside an urban centre, the poorer the service becomes and the more isolated residents feel. 

Just two kilometers outside of rural Merlin, Ontario, residents feel the squeeze. The fixed wireless providers (i.e. Xplornet, TekSavy and Bell) do provide service, but at speeds that at their highest just meet the “minimum standards” set out by the government.

The service is provided over LTE wireless networks, but with the lack of built infrastructure, not everyone can get access to it. The major wireless providers, do provide mobile broadband service but with aggressively low data caps many residents can’t affordably access services available to the larger community. Services we might now all take for granted while sheltering in place, like Netflix, YouTube, or video calling. 

Pandemic woes

The global pandemic has certainly brought a spotlight directly on the digital divide. Many of us are now working from our homes, and putting a much larger demand on our home internet. For their part, TekSavvy Solutions Inc. (TekSavvy), Canada’s largest independent service provider (ISP), has been expanding access to their fiber internet services in rural Chatham-Kent. This expansion provides much-needed access but also protects the community from technological change further into the future. TekSavvy projects that their investment alone will further connect 38,000 homes and businesses.

While investments by independent internet service providers and the major telecoms are welcome in rural communities, there still remains a lot left to be done. While the technology or locale may differ from the major urban centres, the need remains – everyone deserves to be connected.

TheConsumR asked Bell Canada to participate in this article, and detail their expansion plans in Chatham-Kent or Canada more broadly. Bell did not respond to a request for comment in time for publishing.

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