The Critical Importance of Rural Broadband
In recent days both the provincial government (in Ontario) and the federal government have committed to investing in rural broadband connectivity. This investment is vital for access to a modern business network for many businesses. It is also critically important for individual households in an increasingly connected world. I often hear the refrain that internet is not critical but makes streaming movies and music more easy but there is so much more to the issue. Many of us take high speed internet for granted. The investment that the governments are committing to are welcome and vitally important.
The internet is increasing important for business. I've spoken to numerous small and medium sized food businesses who are constrained by a lack of consistent access. They lose business or are driven to high cost cellular data to maintain business connectivity. The increase in online ordering has provided an opportunity for these small and medium sized businesses to connect directly with customers and shorten supply chains. This can provide access to customers that are unreachable through traditional retail outlets due to limited volumes. The direct interaction can increase margins and provide the momentum to achieve a critical mass of volume that facilitates going into traditional retail. Poor access blocks this avenue for growth and hinders the sustainability and development of food processing infrastructure in Canada.
The food system is also increasingly depending on web based platforms like blockchain to facilitate product authenticity and traceability. In the absence of good broadband, this can't go all the way back to the farm.
We are also seeing increasing volumes of data generated in support of precision farming that will allow for productivity and safety enhancing decisions at the individual animal or field parcel level. Once again, that progress will be hampered if that data cannot be transferred effectively on broadband in rural areas.
More and more companies will not only allow but encourage remote work. Access to those jobs will be limited by limited broadband. There may be a real opportunity to bring people back to rural communities if they have the ability to work remotely.
All levels of education are doing more delivery of content online during the pandemic. This was, however, increasing before the pandemic and will remain afterwards. Access to educational resources and opportunities will be limited for rural residents if there is not sufficient bandwidth to support it.
Rural areas are often underserviced from a health care perspective. Broadband can provide access to specialist resources without having to travel which can improve health outcomes. With broadband limits, however, the areas that most need to support of tele-health have the least access to it. This is important as tele-health grows and broadband is essential infrastructure to support that improvement in healthcare.
The investments being made in rural broadband being are critical for the health of rural businesses and communities. Its great to see this happening now.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, Michael. "The Critical Importance of Rural Broadband". Food Focus Guelph (104), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, November 9, 2020.