RURAL CONNECTIVITY

A New Connectivity Task Force


APAS launches the Rural Connectivity Task Force to improve internet and cellular coverage in rural Saskatchewan


Written by APAS Policy Staff

RURAL CONNECTIVITY

A New Connectivity Task Force


APAS launches the Rural Connectivity Task Force to improve internet and cellular coverage in rural Saskatchewan


Written by APAS Policy Staff

RURAL CONNECTIVITY

A New Connectivity Task Force

APAS launches the Rural Connectivity Task Force to improve internet and cellular coverage in rural Saskatchewan


Written by APAS Policy Staff

Reliable internet and cellular service are critical for rural communities to support their businesses, students, health services, and overall quality of life.

In 2018, the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) identified minimum service standards for internet speeds for Canadians: 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, which is fast enough to stream online video and access cloud-based software applications.

People in rural Saskatchewan, however, understand just how far we still are from this level of service.

It’s for this reason that APAS has launched the Rural Connectivity Task Force.

Over this fall and winter we will be taking a very close look at the barriers to improving connectivity in rural Saskatchewan.

Reliable internet and cellular service are critical for rural communities to support their businesses, students, health services, and overall quality of life.

APAS began working on the issue in 2019, when we conducted a survey on rural internet and cell service. At that time we found a high level of disruption to, dissatisfaction with, and lack of investment in rural connectivity, with 75 per cent of survey respondents saying they were unhappy with their internet service.

Did you know?

The federal government has made $750 million dollars available for rural internet projects over the next five years to improve internet and cellular coverage in rural and remote Canada.

Unfortunately, this is only a small part of the estimated $8 billion that will be needed to ensure equal access to digital services for all Canadians.

It is undeniable that COVID-19 has made things worse. In May 2020, APAS launched a follow-up survey to see how the pandemic was affecting connectivity in rural Saskatchewan. Since then nearly 750 people have responded, with more than 80 per cent indicating that their cellular and internet service has become even worse since the pandemic began in March.

When school went online last spring, rural kids struggled to connect, and some families found themselves parked in the school parking lot relying on the school’s Wi-Fi to stream their online classwork. Zoom interactions with teachers lagged and crashed, leaving many with unanswered questions and unfinished assignments.

Meanwhile, farm business stalled as online auctions and banking apps crashed, with some farmers ending up at Tim Hortons just to access Wi-Fi to send an email.

Other rural families had difficulty accessing health services, many of which had moved online. And let’s not forget that farm families deserve to be able to stream movies, stay connected on social media, and stream music and podcasts during harvest.

Hearing from hundreds of rural Saskatchewan residents has made it clear that more needs to be done – and urgently – on the issue of rural connectivity.

75% of APAS survey respondents said they were unhappy with their internet service.

What is Spectrum?

Spectrum is the small slice of radio waves that we use to connect wireless devices. These waves are divided into bands of different sizes that are used to avoid interference and make it possible for your phone to connect to both your Bluetooth-enabled smart watch and the nearest cell phone tower at the same time.

Spectrum is a finite, publicly owned resource that is auctioned off by governments to telecommunications service providers. Unfortunately, if a provider doesn’t have the towers to make use of the spectrum, it goes idle and is of no use to the public.

What is Spectrum?

Spectrum is the small slice of radio waves that we use to connect wireless devices. These waves are divided into bands of different sizes that are used to avoid interference and make it possible for your phone to connect to both your Bluetooth-enabled smart watch and the nearest cell phone tower at the same time.

Spectrum is a finite, publicly owned resource that is auctioned off by governments to telecommunications service providers. Unfortunately, if a provider doesn’t have the towers to make use of the spectrum, it goes idle and is of no use to the public.

Jeremy Welter, Task Force Chair (RM of Mariposa)
Ian Boxall, Task Force Member (RM of Connaught)
Bev Pirio, Task Force Member (RM of Laurier)

Enter the Rural Connectivity Task Force: their work over the next few months will help APAS better understand and advocate for the solutions that will allow rural residents to access the services folks in Regina and Saskatoon take for granted.

The Task Force is led by agricultural producers from across the province, including:

  • Jeremy Welter (Chairperson, RM of Mariposa)
  • Ian Boxall (RM of Connaught)
  • Bev Pirio (RM of Laurier)
  • Bill Prybylski (RM of Garry)
  • Paige Stewart (RM of Fillmore)

This fall they will meet with industry experts, service providers, academics, and the public to investigate the reasons for Saskatchewan’s digital divide and identify the steps needed to ensure equal access going forward.

The Task Force will release a preliminary report in December, which will provide an opportunity for stakeholders and members of the public to provide feedback. A final report will be released in early 2021.

Your feedback throughout this process is extremely important. If you haven’t already, please let us know how your connectivity has been affected during COVID-19 by completing our online survey.

To receive updates on the Task Force and provide feedback on their preliminary report, please sign up here.

Bill Prybylski, Task Force Member (RM of Garry)
Paige Stewart, Task Force Member (RM of Fillmore)

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