Rural Ontario often appears to be an afterthought for upper levels government when it comes to things like infrastructure spending. This is nothing new to anyone who has lived in rural Eastern Ontario. However, there’s a more recent type of infrastructure that’s becoming even more and more critical and it’s even completely non-existent in some rural areas. That infrastructure is broadband (high-speed) internet service.
When most people think of infrastructure, they usually think of roads, bridges and water resource systems etc. One could argue that broadband has become just as important and that governments should be investing significant amounts of money in it as well. You may be thinking that cities and towns are already serviced by private internet providers of all shapes and sizes from Bell to Joe Computer, so why does government need to spend tax dollars on this? Unfortunately, a business case can’t be made for private companies to install fiber optics networks (which carry broadband) in rural areas where there may be sparse populations and significant distances between customers. However, just because private enterprise won’t do it, doesn’t mean that there’s still not a very serious need for it.
There are many reasons why it’s important to invest in broadband for rural areas. From making it difficult to sell a house or property that has no access to reliable high-speed internet, to reducing agricultural technology options for farms and agricultural businesses that could dramatically help them improve efficiency and reduce costs. Due to the fact that the internet has become so critical in so many aspects of our lives, it stands to reason that a lack of broadband could contribute to the demise of rural communities because they will become less desirable to live, work and operate a business in. Some would argue that it’s happening now. We’re already losing smaller family farms as some members of the next generation choose a different career and life path. We need to attract new people to the rural areas and encourage them to begin farming and start their own businesses.
With the rapid advancement of technology, a whole new industrial revolution is believed to be taking place (called “Industry 4.0” according to BDC Economist Pierre Cleroux). This means that with broadband internet service, small to mid-size businesses could potentially consider non-traditional (rural) areas to invest in because of the relatively low price of land. Plainly, this won’t happen without broadband service which has become an absolute must-have in the business world. In other words, rural Ontario is being left behind and is at a serious disadvantage in trying to attract investment, create jobs and cultivate economic growth. It is challenging enough these days for rural areas, but when you can’t access essential services like high-speed internet, it makes it incredibly difficult to encourage any type of growth or even maintain what already exists.
There are areas of North Grenville that currently don’t have high-speed internet. Knowing how important this is to economic and residential development, you would think it would be one of the key topics of conversation at the council table both at the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and in North Grenville itself. Without broadband, the economic advantage that the larger urban areas enjoy will only continue to grow and the rural areas will be further left behind.