Think about how connected you are.
You wake up to the obnoxious blaring of your smartphone alarm. You check social media. You have six new direct messages—three from friends, one from your Aunt Becky, one from a high school acquaintance you haven’t spoken to in the better part of a decade.
Then it’s time for work! You plop yourself down at your desk, open your email and choose which ones to respond to before your Zoom call at 10. You have three more before the workday is over.
And before you know it, it is over. How are you going to spend your evening? Want to stream some Netflix? There’s always something interesting on Amazon Prime.
I’ve heard good things about The Expanse.
A few hours later, you crawl back into bed. You sent an alarm on your smartphone. You drool onto your pillow. And the next morning, you do it all over again.
Yes, even as the pandemic endeavoured to keep us further and further apart, we’ve emerged into this strange new digital frontier paradoxically more connected to each other than ever.
Remote work. Telehealth. Online learning. Access to a reliable internet connection and mobile services has never been more important.
But, as a result, an unpleasant new caste system has formed around this need. We’ve spent hundreds of years talking about the haves and the have-nots in terms of wealth, but now the disparity isn’t just between the rich and the poor—it’s between the connected and the disconnected.
“In a sense, those disconnected people in rural areas don’t get to be Canadian.”
“Right now, you need a 50 Mbps Internet connection to participate in Canada’s digital economy,” Rob Petruk, the Chief Executive and Technology Officer at Gosfield North Communications Co-operative Limited, explains. “Be that paying bills, watching a how-to video on YouTube, online learning or working from home. Your typical rural internet connections aren’t good enough or strong enough to sustain a single person, let alone a family of four or five when you have three people in school and two people trying to work from home.”
This connectivity gulf between rural and urban communities is only growing more vast. And the implications are truly disquieting.
“Connectivity is ultra-critical,” Rob states. “Without the ability to upload, video chat, screen share and do all of the things that you would’ve done in school, it’s a countdown until you’re so far behind that you can’t ever get caught up again. And what about telehealth and remote medical and mental health care? Social services? We are relegating people in rural areas to a subsect of humanity.”
“In a sense, those disconnected people in rural areas don’t get to be Canadian, ” Rob adds.
And before you start thinking that this issue is too abstract, consider that it’s already happening in your own backyard. In fact, our neighbours on Pelee Island are already suffering from the catastrophic effects of this connectivity gulf.
“Until now, Pelee has unfortunately been forgotten about when it comes to funding for broadband in Canada,” Rob states. “Unfortunately, depending on the weather, people on Pelee Island can’t even reliably make 911 calls!”
Fortunately, a recent grant has arrived to help connect Windsor and Pelee Island.
“This is an infrastructure investment. It’s similar to if you are building a bridge or a road.”
Thanks to the Federal Government’s Universal Broadband Fund and the Provincial Government’s ICON Fund, Pelee Island will finally have access to sustainable and reliable high-speed 10G upload and 10G download Internet service. A multi-disciplinary team comprised of Pelee Island, Gosfield North and some external brilliant minds will work together to turn Pelee Islands into its own service provider. This will allow for the creation of 16 FTE jobs (with the potential to scale to 45) and a great number of contract positions.
“By creating a local Internet Service Provider, Pelee Island can build a sustainable economy of scale that will transform the Island into a hub for research, innovation, commerce and tourism,” Rob stresses. “This will enable businesses to compete in Canada’s digital economy and attract prospective customers while fostering research partnerships and collaboration.
Connectivity will also enable reliable 911, NG911 and life-saving telehealth services. In addition, the funding will enable businesses and residents to access important digital Government services and programs without the need for an expensive and unreliable cellular data plan.
“This is an infrastructure investment,” Noah Campbell, Director, Government & Community Innovation at Touchless Inc., explains. “It’s similar to if you are building a bridge or a road. If you consider connectivity a utility, then to provide this utility you need infrastructure.”
The geography of Pelee Island presents some unique challenges. In order to complete the project, Gosfield North has conscripted two massive submarine cables that will run from the mainland to the island.
“Rob helped design a special cable with global submarine fibre firm” Noah states. “It has a breakaway section that can be replaced should it be damaged by large ships in the shipping channel. It will be able to provide fiber internet to every address on Pelee Island. This state-of-the-art submarine backbone has the capacity to handle hundreds of gigabytes in transmissions.”
Part of the grant money includes the cost of replacing the submerged cable in case of damages.
“It’s designed for Lake Erie waters,” Noah states. The cable will be very easy to repair without affecting the quality of connection on the island.”
And all this will be a small price to pay to narrow the gap between the connected and the disconnected.
“Rural connectivity is of the utmost importance right now,” Rob states. “The average household will need about a gigabyte of connectivity to do what we’re doing today on 50MG. That’s only five years away!
“The Internet is now like water. It’s no longer a-nice-to-have. It’s a necessity.”
Links to Announcement:
- Province: https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/1000626/nearly-280000-ontario-residents-to-benefit-from-historic-agreement-to-improve-access-to-high-speed-internet
- Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development/news/2021/07/nearly-280000-ontario-residents-to-benefit-from-historic-agreement-to-improve-access-to-high-speed-internet.html
- CTV Windsor: https://windsor.ctvnews.ca/almost-20-million-going-towards-high-speed-internet-on-pelee-island-1.5535716