Government takes small step in support of rural broadband access
The StarPhoenix yesterday called out phone company SaskTel for its sudden announcement of a cancellation of Internet services to rural areas in Saskatchewan. This will leave 8,000 customers without Internet access, at a time when “farmers are relying on the Internet more than ever before for such things as timely marketing”, not to mention the effect on businesses relying on Skype, distance education, and family entertainment.
The StarPhoenix points out that the provincial government justifies its principle of public ownership of utilities because “the private sector cannot be counted upon to deliver reliable services at a reasonable cost to a widely scattered population”. However this development shows that neither the government nor SaskTel were apparently able to plan ahead to ensure uninterrupted Internet service.
SaskTel blames Industry Canada, saying that “the federal agency is "taking back" the broadband spectrum allocation SaskTel was using for its rural fixed wireless network”.
Today, however the Harper government responded that “access to the Internet is not a luxury; it's a necessity”, and that "[l]eaving 8,000 rural Canadians without reliable access to the Internet is unacceptable”. SaskTel will be given additional time upgrade their systems so as to ensure uninterrupted access for users.
While it’s great to see that the government is responding to connectivity issues and places a high value on Internet access, these ad hoc solutions don’t make up for Canada’s lack of a broadband plan. We’ve posted before about the need for a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada, and we’ve brought citizens together to craft and distribute an action plan for a connected Canada. The government has no excuse to allow our digital deficit to continue.
Meanwhile the government response also highlights its plan to auction off new wireless spectrum as part of a plan to expand and upgrade cell phone access, but as we’ve noted, these plans are likely to reinforce Big Telecom’s stranglehold, and our proposals for improvements have so far not been incorporated. OpenMedia executive director Steve Anderson summarized our take on the spectrum auction framework: “This decision could have been worse, but if prices do not begin to come down Canadians will know who to blame.”
We’re falling behind other industrialized nations on all things digital: our Internet is slower and more restricted, and both mobile and wired access to the web are more expensive.