Guest Blog: Not enough funding - no strategy for rural broadband

Date: November 21, 2018

On November 20th, Canadian Auditor General (AG) Michael Ferguson released his fall 2018 reports. One of these was on rural broadband and he found that the lack of funding led the responsible department to abdicate its leadership for preparing a comprehensive strategy.  The AG’s report centres out the federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Here are the key messages from the report: 

Many examinations of broadband Internet in Canada have recommended that the federal government create a national broadband strategy, but the government has not agreed to take that step. In fact, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has been reluctant to establish a strategy without funding. So, the Department did not have a strategy to meet the connectivity needs of Canadians in rural and remote areas. This means that people in these areas have less access to important online services, such as education, banking, and health care, and do not have information about when they could expect better access.

In 2016, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada launched its Connect to Innovate funding program for broadband expansion. However, the Department did not implement the program in a way that ensured the maximum expansion for the public money spent.

Finally, small Internet service providers did not have sufficient access to high-quality spectrum to support broadband deployment in rural and remote areas. The Department auctioned spectrum licences for geographic areas that were too large for smaller service providers to submit bids for. Also, the secondary market for unused spectrum did not function well, partly because licensees had little business incentive to make unused spectrum available for subordinate licensing.

Excerpted from: 2018 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada, Report 1 – Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas.

As a critical pathway to global markets, education and healthcare, rural broadband matters to all of us. To achieve the best sustainable solution to reshaping rural development and services, a collaborative approach to broadband connectivity is required. Once again, SWIFT encourages all stakeholders to make their voices heard on this issue with their Federal Member of Parliament. 

The responsible federal Minister can be contacted here:

Guest blog provided by Geoff Hogan, Chief Executive Officer at Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology Inc. (SWIFT).