Municipalities must develop a Broadband Strategy to eliminate the digital divide

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This recent announcement from ISED about prioritizing broadband development will create greater impetus behind existing broadband infrastructure funding programs and should lead to more funding as just recommended by FCM.  

But, not all bandwidth is created equal, so aiming at CRTC’s target of 50/10 Mbps as the ISED announcement actually has the effect of exacerbating the digital divide. In downtown Toronto, residents have access to 1 Gbps symmetrical Internet for $100 per month or less today. Businesses in rural Canada can’t get this level of service at any price.

Every Canadian needs equitable access to the Internet with their Toronto peers because it is a determinant of one’s equal access to healthcare, education, government and marketplaces.  Increasingly, if one is to receive a healthcare diagnosis, take a course, pay a parking ticket, find a job, start a business, and connect to customers and suppliers, they must do it from home and they must have an Internet connection that is capable of supporting these multiple sessions simultaneously.  

If my connection in Kingston costs more, is slower and won’t support my family using multiple applications at the same time, then I’m at a competitive disadvantage to my peers in Toronto who can. This is true for all Canadians living outside of downtown high-income neighbourhoods in large urban centres, and today residents in economically depressed urban neighbourhoods and rural areas are particularly disadvantaged.

Each municipality must develop a Broadband Strategy as a roadmap to permanently eliminate the digital divide and ensure all their businesses and residents have access to the Internet equal to their best-connected peers in Toronto. The economic prosperity and social well-being of our citizens is at stake.  

If municipalities do this right, investments in broadband infrastructure that flow out of the Broadband Strategy will prepare everyone for the future by creating the enabling infrastructure necessary to support smart city apps like smart transportation, smart utilities, smart businesses and smart homes. Most importantly, every person, place or thing will gain equal and open access to the Internet.

Substantial federal and provincial funding is available today and more is coming our way soon, so municipalities who are first in line to apply for it will be the smart city leaders of tomorrow. Carpe diem.

Campbell Patterson