by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture would like to see continuing problems with rural Internet service become an issue tackled during the federal election this fall.
A recent survey by the federation found that two out of three Ontario farmers have an unreliable Internet connection, according to a federation press release.
“The telling part of the survey is most people see themselves becoming more dependent on Internet access with 82 per cent considering it an essential service,” says Ontario federation general manager Neil Currie. “The other big thing is it’s just a mixed bag out there as to what’s available.”
The Ontario federation is using the survey to support infrastructure consultations in Ontario as well as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s upcoming submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Canadian Federation president Ron Bonnett says the CRTC, which regulates Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications, has called for submissions as part of its review of basic telecommunications services for all Canadians. “This is the start of a process,” Bonnett says. “I think they (the CRTC) are trying to get feedback from groups and people with what the needs are, particularly in rural communities.”
The message Bonnett hopes to get across is one that it has delivered before: rural Canada needs reliable Internet access at affordable prices.
Bonnett says the need for rural Canadians to have reliable Internet access “has been around for a long time” and was an issue when he was the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s president 10 to 14 years ago.
Although improvements have been made since, “I think we’re a long way from where we want to be,” he says. “Many rural areas have real problems with access to true high-speed Internet. The amount of data that can be moved back and forth in rural areas is not equivalent to some of the urban centres.”
Lack of access to reliable Internet has become a bigger issue now because Internet use on farms has expanded “exponentially,” he explains. Farmers use the Internet for a variety of functions, such as accessing market and weather information, taking training courses, participating in e-commerce, researching crop or livestock production tips on various websites or for social media purposes.
“A lot of the types of data that’s being exchanged takes up a lot more bandwidth than what it used to,” he says. “We almost have a double whammy with the capacity in rural Ontario increasing very slowly while the types of information exchanges taking place now using up more bandwidth.”
He says the federation would like to see the CRTC consultation result in a federal strategy to expand broadband service in rural communities.
Ontario farmers can relate to what Bonnett is saying. One respondent to the Ontario federation’s survey commented the Internet “is the connection to the world and it takes way too long from here – very frustrating,” says researcher Peter Sykanda. He designed and conducted the survey with help on some survey questions from Helen Hambly from the University of Guelph’s school of environmental design and rural development.
The online survey also revealed some farmers pay up to $400 to $500 per month for their Internet service. Urban Ontarians pay less than $100 per month.
The survey was done from May 28 to June 8. The federation sent out emails to 16,000 members and obtained more than 1,000 responses.
Because the survey was online that skewed the results “to a degree,” says Currie. “These are people that have access generally,” he explains. The federation doesn’t know how many rural Ontarians or even members are unable to get Internet access at their farms. BF