Canada's digital divide is as deep as it ever was, a new government-commissioned survey suggests, and citizens want the government to close it.
People living in rural areas and in Canada's northern territories are much more likely to be dissatisfied with the speed and reliability of their home internet connections than their Southern neighbours, according to a new report by polling firm EKOS for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, the country's federal telecom regulator.
According to the survey, the majority of Canadians overall were satisfied with the speed and reliability of their internet, but people in rural areas were twice as likely to be dissatisfied, and people in the territories were three times as likely to be dissatisfied. When it came to price, more than half of the country overall was right pissed.
The finding shouldn't be surprising. For years, people in rural regions and the North have been effectively digitally disenfranchised by a lack of appropriate internet infrastructure. The internet is so slow and expensive in places like Cambridge Bay, Nunavut that some residents there have taken to mailing a single USB stick back and forth across the country to get everything from movies to computer updates. Worse, some indigenous communities have little or no internet infrastructure at all, compelling them to build and operate their own.
According to the EKOS report, many people from "rural and underserved areas" in focus groups reported "difficulties using websites with pictures or using flash, streaming video, uploading and downloading documents, playing games online and making online video calls." So, yeah, pretty much everything you'd want to use the internet for.
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Explanations have ranged from greedy telecom companies who don't see the economic value in investing in sparsely-populated areas, to ineffective government responses. Indeed, for the better part of a decade, the Canadian government has been promising to improve connectivity for people in rural areas and the North, with not much besides continually moving targets show for it. The Trudeau Liberals have renewed this promise with $500 million over five years earmarked for "a new program to extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote communities."
EKOS asked respondents who should be responsible for making their internet faster and cheaper, and found that "market forces" alone was the least popular answer. Most said it should be the government's job to get their internet up to speed, or some combination of the government and market forces.
Of course, Canadians living in rural areas and in the territories weren't the only people upset about their internet in a country more or less dominated by an oligarchy of three major telecom providers. More than half of Canadians overall were dissatisfied with the price they pay for an internet connection.
The message is clear: Canadians are mad as hell about their internet, and they want the government to do something about it.