More than half of all rural residences in the City of Ottawa are affected by slow internet speeds in a world where faster communication is essential.
A report prepared for the city’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) estimates that more than 16,000 households in rural Ottawa neighborhoods still lack access to high-speed internet, representing 58% of all rural households in the city. The majority simply don’t have access to the so-called “universal service goal” of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload (50/10) internet speeds. About 3,400 homes that are supposed to have this 50/10 standard often find their service to be underperforming.
In addition, approximately 260 businesses in rural areas, or about 18% of all rural businesses, still do not have access to high-speed Internet.
The staff report, prepared for Thursday’s ARAC meeting, follows a February 2021 focus to explore rural connectivity and what can be done to improve it.
“Access to reliable high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for many daily tasks,” staff said in the report. “As seen throughout the pandemic, residential broadband connections are essential for access to activities such as education and work.”
However, staff note that providing high-speed broadband internet can be prohibitively expensive for private companies that control the vast majority of the market and physical infrastructure. Ottawa’s rural area is geographically large and the population density is low, which discourages businesses from investing. Senior levels of government have made funding announcements for rural connectivity, which city staff say is reassuring.
Staff say in the report that more than $1.5 million in funding from the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund has been awarded for connectivity projects in three rural neighborhoods, although work has yet to begin. .
- Carp, Ward 5, $655,324 in financing for Bell Canada for 93 households
- Dwyer Hill, Ward 21, $273,402 financing to Bell Canada for 42 households
- Navan, Ward 19, $623,217 in financing to Rogers Communications for 146 homes, with just under $500,000 in additional private investment from Rogers.
(DISCLAIMER: Bell is the parent company of CTV News and Newstalk 580 CFRA, where this article also appears.)
The Province of Ontario also plans to connect all Ontarians to high-speed broadband internet by 2025. Project announcements under Ontario’s Accelerated High-Speed Internet Program (AHSIP) are expected this summer.
“As this was a commercially sensitive competitive procurement process, no information was released. However, since AHSIP’s stated goal is to bring all Ontarians to 50/10 connectivity by 2025, it is reasonable to assume that parts of Ottawa that currently do not have access to 50/10, as defined by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will be included in the program,” employees say.
Staff say that at the municipal level, the city has very little say over where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) build. The city’s only regulatory role under the Telecommunications Act is to provide municipal consent to ISPs wishing to build on city-owned property.
Instead, the city is engaged in advocacy with higher levels of government and expanding its own public Wi-Fi offering in city-owned facilities. Staff note that while this service is growing, it is not a solution to bridging the digital divide between Ottawa’s city, suburbs and countryside.
In February 2021, City Council allocated $40,000 in rural connectivity funding. The report says that with funding announcements from the federal and provincial governments, it was decided that the money would be better spent on expanding the provision of public Wi-Fi in city-owned facilities in rural neighborhoods. Staff will work with city partners to determine which facilities will benefit from expanded Wi-Fi options.
The Committee on Agriculture and Rurality meets Thursday at 10 a.m.