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Northern Ont. communities still lack high-speed internet access, report finds

A new study released Wednesday finds northern Ontario is far behind when it comes to high-speed internet access.

"Although the federal government currently states that as of 2021, 91 per cent of Canadian households had access to fixed high-speed internet, a recent report by Auditor General Karen Hogan found that there was a significant digital divide between rural and remote communities and larger urban centres," Connected North said in its recent State of Broadband in Northern Ontario report.

"Blue Sky Net has found that of the 285 northern Ontario communities, only 74 had at least 50 per cent of their households able to access 50/10Mbps terrestrial high-speed internet."

That equals to 26 per cent of northern Ontario communities.

Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation,the proprietors of the survey, said a lot more work needs to be done to meet targets set by both the federal and provincial governments to better connect Canadians.

East Ferris resident Phil Koning said his internet often dips in and out of connection. 

"The world revolves around the internet access now," Koning said.

"It ebbs and flows depending on traffic and how many people are on it."

It's inconvenient for him and his neighbours who deal with the same connection, he said.

"They have teenagers at home trying to access courses online, work from home, trying to run a business from home. It doesn't work for those people," Koning said.

The northern broadband report examines where northern Ontario currently fits in when it comes to high-speed internet access.

"Our saviour is going to be small internet service providers. They’re the ones, essentially, bringing internet to us now," said Susan Church, Blue Sky Net’s executive director.

"The larger telecoms need to be able to 'play in the sandbox' as they say." 

The report also finds the smallest communities in the northern part of the province feel the impact of the "digital divide" the hardest.

Of the 187 communities with a population under 1,000, only 41 have at least half of households able to access a standard rate of speed.

The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) said it will continue to advocate for homeowners, businesses and cities/towns in need of a stronger internet connection.

"It takes time and northern Ontario is a very large geographical area," said Maggie Horsfield, North Bay deputy mayor and North Bay’s representative on FONOM.

"So to bring in services to cover that area, it’s going to take time and investment from levels of government."

The federal government is aiming for every household to have a standard rate of speed by 2030 and the Province of Ontario by 2025. To reach these goals, Church said more work would need to be completed.

"Without the ability to connect, it’s not just businesses that are shortchanged. It’s also those looking for health care and those looking for education," she said.

The recent Auditor General of Canada’s report finds rural and remote communities are currently sitting at 60 per cent high-speed internet access.

"If the government wants to open up the pathway to productivity, we have to have improved internet access,” Koning said.

To see the full report, click here. Top Stories

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