We have a friend, Ontario-based, who is prominent in the social media marketing field. She is a single person who loves to travel and explore—and her work is portable. She is often to be found in south American countries, for instance, for months on end. All she needs is a high-speed internet connection.
The numbers of people like her are growing—mostly young people who increasingly place a high value on quality of life and disavow the city commute/office cubicle grind. Already, in Canada, about 20 per cent of freelance computer industry workers have relocated to rural communities for the less stressful/more agreeable lifestyle.
On one hand, this obviously represents a glorious opportunity for an area like Atlantic Canada where rural communities have been emptying of young people for decades and local economies have been in precipitous decline—but a highly desirable quality of life remains. These are generally fairly well-compensated folks representing a diverse economic base as opposed to the one-horse town economies we have become accustomed to.
But, there is a rather serious hitch—the availability of high-speed internet service. Existing businesses, students and the tourism are also negatively impacted and the potential to develop rural land is compromised. Efficient internet service is now expected as a basic requirement and the problem is constantly exacerbated by ever-increasing demands for band width.
It’s quite unfair to load this state of affairs on the backs of whatever government is in power. The problem is universal across the western world in sparsely-populated areas. Canadian governments, provincial and federal, are struggling to finance very expensive solutions. Internationally, as always, some jurisdictions are dealing with it better than others. Many countries are establishing minimum broadband speed goals higher than Canada—in the 25 to 100Mbps range. In 2007, the definition of local broadband service here was established at 1.5Mbps. This is being upgraded to a target of 5Mbps as the minimum, with 50 Mbps as a longer-term goal.
The pertinent question for us is whether current service providers are doing all that can be achieved with current technology. In many areas 1.5Mbps is only realized on good days—and you can’t effectively download or send very much or run a business at those speeds. We darkly joke that our “high speed internet” service “fluctuates between low speed and no speed.”
We recently spent some time on a fairly remote little island in the Bahamas—a rather economically challenged nation. The population is only 450 souls. Water is piped in from a larger island. Electricity is provided by undersea cable from the larger island—and the average internet speed of 3Mbps is double our target rural speed an hour from our largest cities.