Speed up availability of high-speed internet in rural areas

My fist-pump moment when we were deciding whether to buy our small farm 10 years ago had nothing to do with the state of the house, or soil conditions, or proximity to off-farm work.

I was standing on the second floor of the derelict house on the property and I could see the elevator leg from the nearby beef farm’s feed processing facility, which housed a transmitter for point-to-point high speed internet.

That meant we could get high speed internet, critical to the work my wife and I do.

I knew it would be critical to our future. It meant we could buy the place.

At about the same time my wife and I looked at moving to a farm owned by my mother-in-law, but high speed internet there would have required building a tower. The manager of the local internet provider was getting a bit exasperated with my pushing about service and asked me if I would be willing to spend several thousand dollars to put up a tower large enough to get the service, expecting sticker shock. I said for sure.

In a calculation of hundreds of thousands of dollars that people make in finding a place to live, there are several variables worth several thousand dollars.

Do you build a garage or get high speed internet? For us, there would be no question.

We ended up at the place where the high speed internet was easiest (and the location was best too).

I have written the words “high speed” internet from 10 years ago in quotes. It wasn’t high speed, but it was enough at that point, and today, there isn’t much we can’t do using the 25 megabits per second download speed we now get from our local provider, still by point-to-point (although it rarely runs that fast). It’s more reliable now than it was in the past.

We can’t stream high definition video, but we’re not missing much because our TV isn’t that large.

Meanwhile, other people are stuck with no access, or poor access. It’s people who live in dead zones, often with service over a hill or not far away, that are the most frustrated and rightly so.

The federal government pledged billions of dollars to help. The province of Ontario has committed to investing in high speed internet, but it will take 10 years. And that’s likely to be over-the-air internet for most folks.

The (slow) arrival of 5G cell service will help, but over-the-air will always be slower than fibre optic.

Maybe I’m naive, but if we could put electricity wires and telephone wires to every home in the mid-1900s, then I don’t know why we can’t wire most of the places in the country again today, with the trenching and drilling technology there is now.

I go back to my question about whether for your daily lifestyle, business and to improve the opportunities for your children, it make sense to pay for wired internet over putting in a garage when building a home?

The analogy works for a farm too. In an era of barns that can cost $1 to $2 million and field equipment that can be a significant fraction of the cost of a barn, would the investment of $10,000 to $25,000 to move internet service down your road make sense? Would it enable more labour efficiency or better information in making marketing decisions? Improvements in either of those areas can mean paybacks of that amount in a year or two.

Yes, governments need to do more. Moving quality internet to all rural residents is a societal and a business competitiveness issue. But individuals need to ask themselves whether they can make investments to get the service they desire too.

John Greig is editor of Farmtario, a Glacier FarmMedia publication.

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