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New Internet Performance Data Shows Federal Government Failing Rural Canada

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) released new data from its Internet Performance Test, which demonstrated Canada’s rural-urban digital divide is significantly growing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet advocates are incredibly concerned about what this is doing for the future of rural Canada, as many families are being left behind.

According to CIRA’s report, urban Internet speeds have nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic, while rural speeds have remained stagnant. As of July, average urban Internet speeds now outpace rural speeds tenfold. Despite many promises over the past months and years from the federal government, assuring the country that universal Internet connectivity is a priority, it is a serious concern to see such disparity in where progress is being made, with no improvements for those who need it most.

“CIRA’s data proves what people have been saying since March: the digital divide is actually widening during COVID-19. And the longer this goes on, the worse it’s going to get,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. 

“What’s most frustrating is that we have a government that claims to be focused on addressing this, but we’ve heard nothing but complete silence since Minister Monsef’s last media tour on the issue two months ago. Despite having already allocated the funding, the $1.7 billion Universal Broadband Fund has been sitting there, gathering dust, for the past 16 months. If not now, when will this ever be a priority? What is it going to take?”

Hatfield added, “Minister Monsef, Minister Bains, and Prime Minister Trudeau should be embarrassed by their lack of action. Despite all of the COVID-19 relief provided over the past five months, how has nothing gone toward providing Internet – the glue keeping our country together? Rural Canada needs to know when our government is going to stop talking and actually step up and take action to meet our basic connectivity needs. Because if not now, when? Right now – the message rural Canada is getting is, “not now, not ever.””

On June 8, 2020, Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef stated the government would be opening applications for its $1.7 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) “in the coming days”. The UBF, first announced last March as part of Budget 2019, aims to help the government connect all rural and remote households to desperately-needed high speed Internet. But as of this release, UBF is not yet open to applicants, and no Internet access projects have been funded through the program to date.

OpenMedia is hearing directly from hundreds of disconnected rural residents, sharing the impact the digital divide is having on them. A teacher from rural Quebec told us over 40% of their student body does not have reliable Internet access at home. Rural seniors say they are deeply isolated due to poor home Internet, and struggling to keep virtual contact with their families. Someone even reported working from the lobby of their local hockey rink, just so they can access reliable Internet.

Over 500 people from the wrong side of Canada’s digital divide have shared their pandemic Internet stories through OpenMedia’s online story tool, a platform for public voices calling for rapid action on ensuring universal access to affordable, good-quality Internet during COVID-19.

© Scoop Media

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