The great Internet divide

The Internet has become inextricably intertwined with my daily life – to the point where I can’t image living without it and have a hard time remembering the days when I did.

High speed internet access is something I’ve pretty much taken for granted, having always lived and worked in urban areas since it became standard in homes and offices. Until now, when I discovered first hand the great Canadian technology divide.

We are moving in a few short weeks (yipe – but that’s a post for another day!) about a kilometre or so outside of Guelph city limits. Turns out that’s about a kilometre too far away to get cable TV and high speed Internet access. The cable isn’t that big a deal – there are workable alternatives – but I didn’t realize that the Internet issue would still be so significant in an area so close to a major city.

As an independent journalist and communications specialist, I work mostly from my home office. This means Internet access is critical. But it’s even more critical for our web-based retail business…we can’t operate without high speed! So as we began to prepare for this move, I started my quest for a reliable solution.

My parents have a satellite-based high speed system in the rural area where they live but it’s less than reliable (weather has to be co-operating!) and often less than “high” speed as well. But I figured I should be able to get something better, as I was going to be living much closer to a major urban area than they are.

My first stop was with current provider Rogers, who told me after much back and forth, that no, I was not inside a Rogers service zone. They did recommend a portable modem that works off the cell network – much like a portable Internet stick but this one allows you to connect multiple computers to it. Sounds like a good idea and one that bears further investigation – but costs are based on usage, so that raised some red flags right away.

Bell has a similar portable modem set up like Rogers that is also based on the cell network. A few inquiries to other Internet providers in the area yielded only disappointment and the offer of dial up.

I asked around to friends and colleagues who live rural and although all have Internet access of some kind, they also all seemed to have issues with speed and reliability.

So we’ve not yet moved, meaning I still have a bit of time to continue my research and figure out what we’re going to do.

I am quite disappointed, though, that in a country as advanced as Canada and one that prides itself on its technological sophistication, there is such a drastic difference in communications service for urban and rural dwellers. Although much of our population does live in urban areas, we are a large country and to my way of thinking, such infrastructure gaps are somewhat shameful.

Over the last number of years, I’ve heard repeated announcements of government funding to boost rural communications infrastructure but so far, I’ve seen very little advancement in that area.

It was about a year ago that I first wrote about this topic on this blog, when I met a farmer from the Sarnia area who was expressing similar frustrations to what I’m experiencing now.

The folks at Synthesis Agri-Food Consulting have also written about this topic and the technology gaps many farmers are faced with due to where they live.

Are you facing a similar high speed internet access issue? If so, what are you doing to work around it? I’d love to hear what others are experiencing on this one!

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