Dial Up Doldrums

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by Nikki Mantell on April 14, 2010

Why on earth did the Low Down dedicate five pages of coveted editorial space to high speed Internet (or lack thereof) last week?

The connected who live in Chelsea, Wakefield or Masham may be asking that question, but those in the Hills dial-up dead zones are not.

We spilled much ink over high speed because readers have been asking for answers. Questions like “Does anyone know if satellite companies will serve Rupert?”. . . or “What is this ‘stick’ and does it work?” have been popping up regularly on the Wakefield News (the email newsletter we distribute). Letters to the Editor have come in, demanding information as to when Bell plans its next phase to extend high speed. And then there are the out-and-out pleas from people phoning the office, begging us to put the heat on the Feds to get some infrastructure money our way.

People are frustrated and want answers.

We hear ya. It took our reporter four months to get a straight answer out of Bell – and that answer was no, there are no plans to extend its high speed network into the Gatineau Hills.

The screams of outrage can be heard from Farm Point (the “black hole” of Chelsea) to Kazabazua.

We are not alone in our frustration. Ruralites all across this country are being abandoned in cyber-limbo as the rest of the world – including the Third World – speeds up. Canada is lagging far behind countries who understand that billions of dollars need to be pumped into broadband in order to modernize their economies.

So serious is the issue that the Globe and Mail on April 3 dedicated the front page of its  business section to the “digital divide” that “makes rural economic prosperity increasingly elusive.” It reports that this disparity has become such a concern that the CRTC has called for a public hearing in the fall to discuss putting in regulations to “ensure all Canadians have access to affordable broadband service.” The Globe called the federal government’s $225 million for extending broadband “a pittance,” compared with  what the U.S., Britain and even Portugal have spent.

Statistics Canada shows ruralites already earn on average 14 per cent less than our city- slicker neighbours (Chelsea excepted), and many communities face even harder times from shutdowns of pulp and paper mills and the like.

The World Bank estimates that each 10 percentage point increase in the availability of broadband in developed countries boosted economic growth by 1.2 per cent.

It’s not like Canada is a big manufacturing country anymore. If we take the route of knowledge economy, people in Rupert, Low and Kaz should be able to contribute – and they need high speed for that. Too bad Industry Canada didn’t see our region as worthy for its next round of funding for broadband extensions. According to The Globe, the federal government has no national strategy for broadband.

Getting back to our story last week, if we take Bell at its word (and really, for any customer who had tried to deal with Bell, that’s a real leap of faith) the way for Gatineau Hillers to go is have 100 neighbours band together and promise the telecommunications giant they will all pay for broadband. Maybe, just maybe, Bell will hook them up. Sometime. Eventually.