CRTC needs realistic eligibility for rural broadband expansion

By Drew Spoelstra
Executive Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

To say that reliable internet is vital to Ontario’s rural residents – farmers, businesses and communities – is stating the obvious. But it’s not the reality for many rural Ontarians.

So when the CRTC designated high-speed internet as a basic service for Canadians – and committed $750 million over five years for upgrades – the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was hopeful at the prospect of expanded service for Ontario farmers.

But the fine print in this infrastructure investment includes unrealistic eligibility criteria that could exclude 100,000 southwestern Ontario rural families alone from upgrades to their internet service. OFA is asking the CRTC to reconsider the eligibility guidelines.

Here’s the troubling part of the CRTC guidelines about who can access funding to upgrade to basic service. CRTC defines basic service as internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps (megabits per second) for downloading and at least 10 Mbps for uploading. To qualify for funding, service providers who apply for area grants are evaluated based on the existing level of broadband service in a 25 square kilometre area. If that area is “partially serviced” – that is, if even one household has basic level of internet speed – that area will not be eligible for funding.

OFA is urging federal politicians to ensure the CRTC reconsider its eligibility and assessment criteria for expanded high-speed internet access across rural Ontario. We’re asking OFA members and rural residents to join in and send a personalized letter to federal politicians to urge them to act on our behalf for better broadband.

OFA is a member of SWIFT – a network that is working to bring high-speed internet to southwestern Ontario’s agricultural and rural communities. SWIFT has requested that CRTC review its broadband fund criteria and OFA supports this request. We have contacted the CRTC directly in a show of support for the recommendations made by SWIFT.

Visit actnow.ofa.on.ca to send a letter to the federal Minister of Canadian and Multiculturalism (responsible for CRTC), the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and the new Minister of Rural Economic Development.

The CRTC program provides an opportunity to eliminate the disadvantage rural Ontario faces with a lack of adequate broadband and provide the same “basic service” of reliable high-speed internet that is essential to our competitiveness and sustainability. But only if the criteria are realistic.

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