Today, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to commit dedicated provincial infrastructure funds to developing and expanding broadband internet access in remote and rural areas of the province. With record investments being made by government in transit and transportation infrastructure, the business advocacy organization is calling upon the provincial government to recognize, through infrastructure dollars, that access to high speed internet is also essential for Ontario businesses to compete in the 21st century global economy.
“Local businesses in Sault Ste. Marie are becoming increasingly dependent on internet access for their everyday business practices,” said Paul Johnson, President of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC). “High-speed internet access has become a necessity for doing business in today’s economy and it is critical that all regions across Ontario have access to this essential infrastructure.”
While the SSMCOC and the OCC acknowledge broadband investments made by the Government of Canada in the recent federal budget, internet access continues to be an issue in parts of Ontario. The letter to the Premier identifies three key recommendations that the Ontario government should address in the coming term to ensure all communities in the province are able to compete in the global economy:
1. Develop a robust broadband investment strategy that acknowledges that broadband is an essential infrastructure investment, and creates space for continued private-sector investment.
2. Build partnerships across all levels of government in order to leverage funding and respond to local need. Recognizing that the private sector has driven investment in broadband infrastructure, the OCC recommends an intergovernmental funds matching formula that will continue to incentivize large private sector investments.
3. Benchmark Ontario’s internet speeds and access. In order to ensure Ontario is able to compete in a technology-driven global economy, we need to create broadband infrastructure that is equal with those of other globally-competitive jurisdictions.
“Just as businesses depend on roads and electricity, high-speed Internet is fundamental to advancing the province’s economic interests,” said Allan O’Dette, CEO & President of the OCC. “Committing funds to broadband infrastructure in rural and remote regions of the province will ensure that economic fragmentation is reduced in Ontario.”
SSMCOC Executive Director Rory Ring noted that “creating a strong broadband infrastructure is essential for communities in Northern Ontario. It is a key factor in closing the geographic divide that separates Northern communities from major Canadian and international centres and allows businesses to access markets that they previously could not and to compete globally.”
Ring notes that “wider access to broadband will also broaden both the social safety net and educational opportunities for communities like the Sault and more rural centres. The internet has opened doors for patients in communities like Sault Ste. Marie to consult and follow-up with medical specialists in Southern Ontario or other areas with more frequency thanks to teleconferencing. Similarly, it has the ability to open up additional opportunities for training in sectors that are traditionally rural, such as agriculture.”
With government services increasingly shifting to online platforms, universal access to high speed internet is becoming more important than ever. By working with Ontario’s business community, government can develop broadband policy that is responsive to existing needs while not dissuading private sector investment.