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Rural internet progress as slow as the service itself

In East Ferris and many places like it, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home students and workforce made an already stretched-thin system nearly useless
frustrated man computer laptop stock
An internet advocacy group has joined the push for better service in East Ferris. Stock photo.

A local internet advocacy group, the municipality in which the members live and work, and the provincial and federal governments all agree internet access and speeds are lacking in certain parts of the country.

According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), "Any areas across Ontario that do not meet the national standards for broadband speeds would be eligible for provincial funding. Up to 12 per cent of households in the province — mostly in rural, remote or northern areas — don't have adequate broadband service."

How to remedy the situation with action and funding is a whole other process.

To that end, the East Ferris Internet Advocacy Group (EFIAG) has formed to "raise awareness of the importance of internet access and the need for all governments to work together to improve access in the community."

Spokesperson Michael Blair offers evidence of internet upload and download speeds slowing to a crawl on a good day. Blair says the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent volume of stay-at-home students and workforce made an already stretched-thin system nearly useless.

National standards for adequate broadband service are defined by speeds known as "50/10." This breaks down to 50 megabits per second download, and 10 megabits for upload, thresholds Blair says are nowhere near attainable in many parts of East Ferris, according to his research.

Says Blair, "We hope to attract the attention of other residents in East Ferris and together, make our voices heard in the struggle to gain access to high-speed internet for all of East Ferris." 

He adds EFIAG is comprised of residents advocating "for the delivery of reliable, affordable and sustainable internet services," in East Ferris.

A letter to the East Ferris Council has led to the internet advocacy group connecting with the East Ferris Economic Development Committee (EFEDC). 

East Ferris CAO Jason Trottier agrees internet connectivity continues to be a key issue for residents and businesses as the municipality grows to nearly 5,000 inhabitants and it will take a collaborative approach to access the level of funding needed.

Trottier says he believes the July 15 presentation to East Ferris Council by EFIAG is the group's way of "trying to determine what the Municipality has done to improve broadband internet in the community, including our advocacy efforts, and to determine whether they have a role to play and if so, to what degree." 

Trottier adds the Economic Development Committee provided the group with a summary of the efforts council has made since the beginning of its term of office. Although there is no recommendation going forward to the council level, Trottier says the municipality is open to constructive collaboration.

"Should the group determine that opportunities exist to expand advocacy efforts, we look forward to working with the group in ensuring that their efforts align with ours and move in a direction that looks to improve broadband internet for the community," he says.

Asked about the broadband issues in East Ferris and in other areas across the riding, Nipissing MPP and Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli observed, "That’s why we are introducing the new Improving Connectivity in Ontario program (ICON), a $150 million plan to improve connectivity in underserved and unserved areas."

See related story: Lack of quality internet frustrates many local users

Fedeli adds, "Broadband is a key driver for economic growth, innovation and job creation and keeps our northern communities connected to their families and businesses. Our government is proud to support these critical infrastructure projects. We encourage the East Ferris Internet Advocacy Group to apply."

The stakeholders have used a ballpark figure of $10-15 million to effect real change to the rural internet system in East Ferris. The question remains, with a provincial funding envelope of $150 million, how many of Ontario's 444 municipalities will qualify? Some quick math suggests the user groups and municipalities could still be left to come up with a considerable portion.

For more on the ICON application process through the Ministry of Infrastructure, click here.

For more on Up to Speed: Ontario's Broadband and Cellular Action Plan, click here.

In discussing models to follow to achieve their goals for East Ferris, both Blair and Trottier mentioned the Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation, which has been advocating for technology development in the region for years

Blue Sky Executive Director Susan Church recently told BayToday, "the key to that mission is working to bring the public and private sector together to expand broadband services across our service delivery area and beyond.  Our area is Mattawa to Manitoulin Island and North Bay to Almaguin Highlands and all points in between."

See: Government promising reliable internet support

"More than ever, there is a need to improve broadband services in Northern Ontario," says Fedeli. "For too long, the North has lacked access to high-speed internet with limited connectivity in many remote communities."




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Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering West Nipissing and the Highway 17/63 corridors. He is based out of BayToday.ca. The LJI is funded by the government of Canada.
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