Fibre optics seen as solution to rural internet problems

The task force began its work with the idea that satellites were going to be the answer to improved service but early on determined that the limitations of satellites were apparent. | Reuters/Mike Blake photo

An Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan task force examined rural connectivity issues, including funding

The Saskatchewan farmers who looked at rural connectivity issues say the future of better service lies in an older technology.

Members of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan task force who studied internet speed, funding, and other factors found that fibre optic technology is still best.

Governments are promoting technology like low earth orbit satellites but the task force said even those require a fibre connection.

“The future is fibre,” said Paige Stewart. “There will never be anything faster than fibre. And yes, there might be a stopgap available for very remote areas and a good fit for some of those satellites, but the long-term infrastructure and investment needs to come in the form of fibre.”

That’s why the task force recommended a dig once policy for the province’s crown corporations. If SaskPower, for example, is installing an underground power line, then a fibre optic line should go in as well, the task force said.

Jeremy Welter, task force chair, said putting those lines in is the largest cost, not the fibre itself. He described fibre as the “true solution to connectivity.”

“To date, they still have not found the upper limit for what fibre can handle,” he said.

Stewart said she began the task force work with the idea that satellites were going to be the answer to improved service, but she said very early on the limitations of satellites were apparent.

The best solution would be fibre to every farm, she said.

This would reduce congestion of cellular phone towers and allow wi-fi hotspots in smaller communities. Starting from a location with fibre, a signal could be broadcast through repeaters. This is similar to the low earth orbit satellites in that they get their signals from a ground base station connected to fibre.

“Satellites have an important role to play in parts of the province that may never, ever get fibre optics to them,” said Bill Prybylski, another task force member.

He said a combination of available technologies will be required, although fibre is the gold standard.

The task force has also said a “master plan” is required to eliminate the bureaucracy that is preventing rural Saskatchewan from being fully connected.

One part of that plan would be to use SaskTel dividends for infrastructure rather than move it into general government revenue.

In the legislature April 22, NDP agriculture critic Trent Wotherspoon said the government should make rural connectivity a priority.

“In the 21st century, connectivity isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential service,” he said during question period. “Instead of just the lip service we get from this government, why won’t they put our money where their mouth is and make rural connectivity happen all across Saskatchewan?”

Agriculture minister David Marit said he would not take advice from the NDP on agriculture.

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