May 26, 2018

Disconnected – How Politicians Have Overlooked Rural Ontario’s Internet Poverty Crisis

Following the 2018 Ontario election has been like watching someone channel-surf. In mere weeks we’ve covered more issues than prior elections could ever cover in months. The Liberals are trying promise after promise to find an issue that will stick with voters. The PCs have screamed about the Liberals non-stop. The NDP have campaigned on their typical social issues, with some success.

Yet there is an issue nobody in the campaign has talked about. It’s a big symptom of what’s wrong with Ontario.

Internet access.

It stuns me that in 2018, rural Ontario residents pony up lots of cash each month to get meager Internet plans which must be rationed. Rural folks pay a 66% premium on similar plans offered in the city. Most rural plans have speeds barely acceptable for YouTube, video chat. They aren’t guaranteed speeds either. God forbid two people try to watch something at the same time.

That price premium is if you’re in an area that supports SkyFi. If you’re unlucky, you’re stuck with mobile internet through Rogers and Bell. You’ll pay through the nose for it. Want 5GB per month (which is basically one DVD)? Fork out $60 each month. Rogers calls this “heavy” usage.

Heavy? My business relies on the Internet. I’m constantly connected to remote computers. I’m saving and downloading source code from our servers all the time. I can burn through 5GB in a half hour or less.

Think about that. In fifteen minutes I burn through what rural folks have to make last a month.

Perhaps our politicians just take internet access as a given. Particularly the party leaders. Besides, when you have an expense account-funded phone plan, who cares about overage? You’re not paying the bill. We all foot it. Most Ontarians, aside from children and teenagers, don’t have the luxury of someone else paying their bills.

This is the province that gave the world smartphones (BlackBerry), modern telephony (Nortel) and the telephone. Ontario was literally the birthplace of modern communications. Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful transmission of voice over telegraph lines in 1876 in Brantford.

The province that gave the world the ability to connect with each other across the world through a supercomputer in their pocket can’t connect its own citizens to each other.

In 2018, dial-up is still some people’s only option for internet access in Ontario. Dial-up.

When will our politicians realize they are creating a new class of poverty-stricken citizens? The total lack of investment in internet connectivity in Ontario is increasing technology poverty between rural and city populations.

It’s also a huge security risk. Every Tuesday, Microsoft puts out patches for Windows. If someone hasn’t updated their computer in a long time, you could easily blow past 5 GB in one upgrade. That’s assuming just one computer in a household too. Tablets and phones get constant updates. Plus there’s all the apps and programs we use. Every time I plug in my phone, there’s always some app updating itself.
Is it a stretch to suggest that someone might put off updates because of bandwidth rationing? Not only are rural Ontarians at a disadvantage technologically, they’re now the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The country doesn’t have a monopoly on shoddy net access. In north-west London, the affluent area of the city, I know those who have the slowest possible DSL plans. It’s not by choice. Their neighborhood telephone lines can’t support high speeds. They barely get 1/3 of what is advertised. Their speeds support low-quality YouTube videos. FaceTime and Google Duo video chats are off the menu.

It’s time for politicians to talk about internet infrastructure again. Just because metro Toronto is dripping with net access doesn’t mean Thunder Bay is. Or north London. Or Tillsonburg. Or Jarvis.

Internet isn’t a luxury anymore. If electricity in Ontario was provided like internet access, there would be riots in the street. Can you imagine paying what we do for electricity and getting barely enough to power a third of the stuff in your home? It’s time to stop thinking of the Internet as a luxury. It’s as essential a utility today as electricity and water.

That or we can continue to let rural Ontario and families in older neighborhoods bleed out financially while rationing what little Internet they can get. All while their tax dollars fund their leader’s unlimited internet access.

Your choice, Ontario.

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