Interventions Phase 2: The Highlander Newspaper (Intervenor 548)

Document Name: 2015-134.226916.2519034.Interventions Phase 2(1hzp601!).html

I live in Haliburton County, Ontario, a rural community of 17,000 people half-way between Ottawa and Toronto, just west of Algonquin Park. I am the publisher of the local newspaper, The Highlander, a publication covering a 4,000 square km area. The paper is available in print and free online download from our website at thehighlander.ca. In the last year, we have also established a substantial social media presence and have developed complementary video reporting capabilities. Our web and video reporting offers new revenue streams (which translate into local jobs). Commercials can be sold to run before video reports and short shows we produce, while online ads run on our website. We've grown online and video revenue substantially over the last year, hiring two people in the process.However the lack of genuine broadband in our area (i.e. speeds available in urban areas) makes our videos difficult to watch and our paper slow to download. When people can't watch a video and its commercial, advertisers pull back. Without advertisers, we can't continue to develop an important cultural product. We are the only media remotely similar to television in our area -- the only opportunity for the community to see itself in video -- and the slow speed is a constant frustration.We see the same problem affecting other businesses. The hardest hit are those who need high speed to do their work. We have a nascent media production industry that struggles to transmit and receive files to and from clients. In fact, slow internet is having a negative impact on our entire economy. As a tourist area, we depend on cottagers and visitors for most of our income. If they can't connect, they don't come. Conversely, if we have a level of service that would allow professionals to work remotely, the opportunities to grow our population base and economy increase substantially.As a community, we are frustrated by the lack of accountability. We get various answers from different telecom companies and levels of government. Bell tells us the service is here, but it simply isn't. Rogers does not seem to be interested in the area at all. Our local politicians and civil servants don't seem to understand the technology and players well enough to find a solution. EORN has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, has claimed to have brought us broadband but indeed has not. What we currently have is equivalent to urban service perhaps a decade ago, and even then it is intermittent.Internet today is as important for economic growth and sustainability as roads were a century ago. We are suffocating for lack of bandwidth. **** businesses that thought they could work remotely are leaving or having second thoughts. Large businesses would not stand for the level of service available.In some countries, Scandinavia for example, rural areas are treated equally to urban areas when it comes to infrastructure. Rural areas and rural life are seen as strategic assets - not simply more expensive to serve due to sparse populations. When fibre was rolled out in Sweden, it went to rural communities first - because they stood to benefit most from the connectivity. As our nation faces a skills shortage, we should want as much labour mobility -real and virtual - as possible.What we'd like to see is this: a mandate to one or more national telecoms to provide Internet service equivalent to urban centres across Canada, at prices similar to what urban users pay. Like the postage system, all Canadians should be provided access on equal terms.The current situation is starving rural communities economically. Potholes in our roads can be tolerated, but gaps in Internet service have immediate economic consequences. This is an important matter of rural strategy: we cannot attract businesses, professionals, creative people or anyone who requires good connections with the outside world. On the contrary, they are departing, leaving economies that end up costing government more in social problems and welfare.Because these days, if you can get by without broadband you're probably not contributing much to the economy. So instead of attracting professionals and entrepreneurs, we lose our youth and retain the least motivated of our population.The solution cannot be left to private industry. Rural areas have challenges of density and topography that can be difficult to overcome. They do not offer the potential revenue urban areas do and so it's logical for private industry to put them low on their priority list. We'll never have adequate service unless the federal government mandates it, as it has done with access to mail.Thank you for your consideration.