Pontiac’s starvation-size broadband can change

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan, Publisher

Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan, Publisher

As the whole world forges ahead with internet expansion, even in countries we used to think of as “undeveloped”, the Pontiac and much of rural Canada remains stuck in the internet’s early days. Isn’t Pontiac part of Canada, the Number One Country in the world? Real number-one nations act differently: Germany’s internet connectedness, or Japan’s super-ambitious plans for internet intensification. They have the same negative economic climate that we claim is preventing us from modernizing. 

The government’s deep thinkers in Ottawa/Gatineau may see rural Canada as dismissible, but they are wrong even about that: the politicians’ hottest dream candidate was wiped out here in the Pontiac in the last election because of his failure to live up to his promises, one of which was to bring broadband services to all of the Pontiac. Yes, rural Canada can make itself felt, as Pontiac did in the last election.

The federal government is preparing another auction of wireless spectrum; here is the moment to allow small, rural internet service companies to purchase or lease more of that broadband to bring it to rural citizens. This is not a massive expensive infrastructure project to last ten years – that’s Japan’s goal, not Canada’s. The federal budget will not be damaged by opening the auction’s territories up to small ISP bidders, not just the four or five giants in the industry.

And to do this, I understand, is also not complicated: split the rural and urban zones. Right now, like most federal government auctions, everything is sold in huge lots, so that much of the Pontiac will be sold with Ottawa and Gatineau and even part of Montreal. Rural providers can’t afford to buy these vast territories, and we don’t have the population to generate the corporate profits. Thus, rural areas get little service, and it’s outrageously expensive. This is not good governance. This is holding the Pontiac and rural Canada back. This is creating disincentives for investment in rural areas.

We have to re-enforce this message to the federal government. How? Write or call your MP and Minister Christian Paradis. If you don’t have time to do more, cut out and send them this column.

It may seem strange that a newspaper publisher advocates more power and reach to a competing media, the internet, but that’s short-term thinking. First, newspapers are doing very well. Their death has been exaggerated. Electronic media is just one more media, not the only media; our complex society uses a multitude of communication tools, not a diminishing number.

Newspapers themselves utilize the internet and cell-phones. It remains true that for rural areas, community newspapers are the single most effective communication means. Even in cities, neighbourhoods want hyper-local news, available only from local papers. 

For the Pontiac to grow – our economy, population, services, our investment opportunities, and our jobs – we need every tool we can get. We need to be open to the world, and to the next town. We need to educate our kids, upgrade our abilities, including our abilities to serve visitors and help others; all of this comes via a full range of media and communications tools. That’s really “broad-band”.

There are people here who think that if we just use whatever online tidbits we have, everything will work out well. These folks seem to work in government offices, but they should test this view, which is more religious than factual.

Let’s pull together to get every tool Pontiac can use. Pontiac needs broadband access from this next government auction.