Uncertain fate for rural wireless Internet

by Chris Barlow

Urban residents in Canada are lucky to have access to very high-speed internet in their homes.

Your internet speed affects many things, including your ability to operate a business or work from home, and your entertainment options, all of which affect property values.  In cities and larger towns, download speeds of 100 megabits-per-second (Mbps) are normal, but many rural residents are lucky to get 5 Mbps, which is just enough to stream a Netflix video.

The high speeds available in cities are due mainly to the existence of underground fibre-optic and coaxial cables which are not yet available in the countryside, or even in most small towns.  So most rural residents depend on a fixed wireless line-of-sight connection to an internet radio tower which can be as much as 10km away, and which can provide speeds up to 10 Mbps under ideal conditions.  Internet service providers, such as Xplornet and Storm, provide this connection using a portion of the wireless spectrum in the 3,500-megahertz band.

Recently, the federal government has announced that it plans to sell off spectrum in this band to make way for 5G mobile phone technology.  The Globe and Mail reported on July 8 that ” Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), has said Ottawa will sell off spectrum in the 3,500-megahertz frequency range in 2020.”  In the same article Xplornet expressed its concern that the proposals will not leave it with adequate spectrum to serve many of its subscribers.

So the future of rural wireless internet seems to be under threat.  In any case, the speeds it can provide are insufficient to properly participate in the digital economy.  In 2016, the CRTC issued a decision that speeds of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload are needed.

To tackle Mississippi Mills’ inadequate internet access, a group called MM2020 was formed under the auspices of the Mississippi Mills Community Economic Development Committee.  MM2020 consists entirely of volunteers committed to bringing modern high-speed internet to the rural residents of Mississippi Mills. Their successes to date include alerting the large telephone companies to the economic potential of Mississippi Mills. Their lobbying efforts contributed to a large telephone company accelerating its timetable to provide high-speed to Almonte and Appleton. MM2020’s current focus is bringing broadband service to the village of Clayton and the greater Pakenham area.

It is very important that these efforts move forward to reduce Mississippi Mills’ exposure to the loss of internet service, which would be a drain on business, emergency services, adaptability to new technologies, property values, and even romance:  A local farmer’s girlfriend even refused to live with him since he did not have high-speed internet.

Please lend your support to the MM2020 working group.  If you live near Clayton or the greater Pakenham area (includes the hamlet, Cedar Hill, Blakeney and the surrounding rural catchment area), please fill out the online survey (There’s one for Clayton and another for the Pakenham area).