Rural communities suffer fallout from CRTC decision

By Drew Spoelstra
Executive Member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

In another blow to the promise of better broadband access across rural Ontario, Bell Canada recently announced it was cutting back on its wireless home internet expansion into rural areas by 20 percent. The telecom giant’s move was in response to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling that smaller internet service providers would pay lower “wholesale” prices for Bell’s infrastructure.

It’s a complicated situation, and one the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is watching closely. We have been strong advocates for reliable high-speed internet services across rural Ontario. Our businesses, schools and residents are at a competitive disadvantage without dependable broadband. The CRTC agrees, having declared broadband internet access a basic service in Canada in December 2016.

We know there is no debate about the need for broadband in rural Ontario. The provincial government included $315 million over five years in its 2019 budget to support cell and internet support in rural and northern communities. That investment is earmarked to expand broadband and cellular service, and was estimated to improve service to up to 220,000 homes and businesses. So what happens now?

Bell, Rogers and Telus own the vast majority of the assets required to bring reliable internet to rural communities. When they pull services, or limit investments, rural Ontario is left with a lack of infrastructure that smaller and local providers could tap into and fill the gaps in rural connectivity.

OFA isn’t in a position to assess the validity of the lower wholesale rates the CRTC set for the large telecoms when selling network access to the smaller, local service providers. What we do know there is an urgent need to deliver high-speed service across rural Ontario.

We are calling on the federal government, the provincial government and the CRTC to put their heads together and fix this mess by working with the big players. Some form of compromise must be found to ensure rural Ontario is not held hostage in no service areas. All parties need to get over the disagreements for the benefit of all of Ontario.

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