Rural internet, cellphone coverage lax: survey

A Saskatchewan survey backs up what many rural residents have said for years: cellphone and internet service isn’t good enough.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan conducted the survey between May 2019 and January 2020. More than 500 responses from across the province indicated that 75 percent of them were dissatisfied with service levels in rural areas. Eighteen percent were satisfied and seven percent reported neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction.

President Todd Lewis said the replies came in even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further illustrated that the system capacity is far from what is needed.

“Typically from 5 to 7 p.m. … they reported poor coverage and slow speeds,” Lewis said, pointing to students being home from school and needing to be online. “Now that is starting at six in the morning for people.”

He said better broadband must be included in infrastructure stimulus packages that governments are rolling out.

The survey found that satisfaction was a little higher for mobile service, with 28 percent satisfied, 63 percent dissatisfied and eight percent neither.

Respondents said they lived between zero and 58 kilometres away from the nearest community, with the average being 12.5 km.

The responses came in from 181 of the 296 rural municipalities. Areas considered adequately served by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission didn’t fare much better in satisfaction rating than inadequately served areas.

Other findings included 62 percent reporting some type of internet service disruption at least once per day and 31 percent reporting multiple disruptions. Only four percent said they had never experienced a disruption.

Cell service disruptions were similar, with 65 percent reporting a problem at least daily and only two percent saying they’d never had a problem.

Comments left by respondents included concerns about safety, economics and access to education.

They are worried about getting help in the case of a serious farm accident or disaster, or having reliable security systems to detect criminal activity.

APAS said the current broadband fund under CRTC regulatory policies limits how much funding Saskatchewan could receive for new service because of the dispersed population and the membership has passed a resolution asking that to change.

Lewis said the future of agriculture and economic development in Saskatchewan relies on technology.

“Everybody knows a spot where if they turn left at the stop sign instead of right they’ll drop the call,” he said.

He added that all the talk about providing 5G service frustrates rural residents who can’t even get 1G.

“The information highway is going to be just as important in rural Saskatchewan as actual highways,” Lewis added. “It really is going to start to affect our ability to do business.

“We’ve just got to keep the pressure on governments.”

APAS is conducting a follow-up survey to further understand the effects of COVID-19. It can be found at apas.ca/survey.

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