Rural connectivity lagging, says Auditor General

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Allyson Beauregard

A report on rural internet connectivity released at the end of November by Auditor General Michael Ferguson says that connectivity in rural and remote regions is lagging, partially because the federal government hasn’t done enough to address the problem. The audit covered the period between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2018.

Allyson Beauregard

A report on rural internet connectivity released at the end of November by Auditor General Michael Ferguson says that connectivity in rural and remote regions is lagging, partially because the federal government hasn’t done enough to address the problem. The audit covered the period between January 1, 2013 and June 30, 2018.
The report notes that despite being told countless times by various authorities that Canada needs a national broadband strategy, the government hasn’t agreed to take that step to improve access for almost 3.7 million Canadians.
In 2018, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISEDC), a government department responsible for supporting internet access, setting legislative and policy frameworks and managing wireless communication waves, endorsed a minimum service target speed of 50/10 Mbps, but only for 90% of the population. In 2016, 84% of the population had access to those speeds, which ISEDC believed would increase to 90% by 2020.
“However, this left out 10%: 3.7 million Canadians living in rural and remote areas. For them, the government had no plan to deliver speeds of greater than 5/1 Mbps … In fact, ISEDC has been reluctant to establish a strategy without funding,” says the report. A strategy would tell Canadians what services to expect and when. A 2013 government analysis found that offering high-speed to 99% of Canadians would cost up to $1.7 billion, including $1.1 billion of public funding.
In addition, the report recommends that ISEDC, in collaboration with CRTC, create a publicly available, detailed connectivity map and update it regularly.
Since 2014, ISEDC has implemented two programs to expand broadband access to rural areas: Connecting Canadians (2014), which offered $240 million over 5 years to install “last mile” connections for 280,000 households; and Connect to Innovate (2016), which gave $500 million over 5 years to bring high-speed to 300 rural communities.
“Last mile” refers to connections linking households to the “backbone”, or particular points within a community that the worldwide internet has been brought to. “Last mile” connections are the most difficult to implement. 
Ferguson concluded that the programs didn’t provide enough information for bidders to submit useful proposals and weren’t implemented in a way that ensured maximum broadband expansion for the public money spent because they didn’t differentiate between projects that really required public funds and those that private companies would have invested in anyway.
Finally, the audit said small internet service providers did not have sufficient access to high-quality spectrum (range of radio waves used for wireless communication) to support broadband deployment in rural areas, mostly because the ISEDC auctioned spectrum licenses for geographic areas too large for smaller providers to submit bids for. 
As of press time, Pontiac MP Will Amos could not be reached.