The need for speed: Slow internet connections burden rural Ontarians

Fibre optic internet will come to rural southwestern Ontario, if a new initiative succeeds

““My son is in high school, [and students there] do all their work on Google Docs and Google Classroom,” Fox says, “and we have to keep making the teachers aware we can’t access a lot of this stuff on an ongoing basis.”

Fifteen years after the federal government launched its first funding program to address the internet access gap in rural and remote areas, country connectivity remains dismal. The federal government has thrown millions of dollars at the problem, and today most of southwestern Ontario does have access to some form of internet — on paper, at least. Much of that service is fixed wireless internet service, which uses transmission towers to deliver broadband internet through radio signals.

The trouble is, the towers don’t broadcast well in uneven terrain. Towers dot the crests of Grey County’s hills to capture the signals, for instance, but their relays often don’t penetrate its deep valleys, where service becomes spotty or even non-existent. Satellite internet service works if a dish’s access to the sky is clear — and the weather is good, but upload and download speeds are not dependable. Both alternatives are pricey; options that access the internet through cell phone towers, such as Fox’s plan are even pricier. And not all telephone companies still offer the only fall-back: slow dial-up service.

Transmission technology such as fibre optics or cable would solve the problem, but these fixes are expensive — it could cost more than $4 billion to get everyone just in southwestern Ontario connected to fibre optics. And companies don’t want to use such expensive technology to serve customers that could be kilometers apart.”