Rural Broadband

During a discussion of rural broadband during a VOBB broadcast/webcast in 2008, Gareth Shearman, chair of Telecommunities Canada, suggested that "bringing broadband to rural communities could be compared to the rural electrification programs of a few decades ago and is just as essential."

Doug House (Against the Tide) notes the importance of the internet in rural NL was pointed out in the 1980s.

"One of the royal commission's more controversial claims was that modern information technologies and telecommunications could potentially compensate for some of the traditional weaknesses of the rural economy, especially its dispersed settlement pattern and distance from major metropolitan markets with attendant high transportation costs. In principle at least, computers, modems, faxes and sophisticated telephones enable people anywhere, including rural Newfoundland and labrador, to have access to the latest information about business opportunities, market trends, financial support, and technological breakthroughs. The royal commission's hope was for a transformation from isolated fishing outports to economically diverse electronic villages, towns and cities."

Richard Fuchs' brief to the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment states:

"A concerted effort needs to be made to transfer these technologies to rural residents in order that they become computer literate in their interaction with the urban sector. Government would be well advised to begin the transfer of this technology through the structure of rural Development Associations and local governments as a component of both its new policy of post-secondary educational decentralization and its longstanding policy of rural development. Put simply, if rural areas are able to negotiate, cajole and influence public policy in the service sector, they will need an information network among themselves which makes decisions affecting their lives. If the revolution in computer technology is to be interactive, rather than extractive, the rural resident seated in front of the video monitor will have to know the language of exchange."

NL's Enterprise Network rural telecenters (an electronic telecommunications system that provided business and economic-development information and communications services throughout rural Newfoundland and Labrador) were a model for the rest of the world in the early 90s.

Stats vary but it's generally agreed that Canada has slipped from second in broadband penetration in 2002 to ninth in 2008. Even more telling is that Canada's definition of broadband (more than 64 kbps) is low compared to other countries.

One interpretation is that Canadian governments have turned the industry over to large corporations to install and control fibre optic cable networks.

A concern for the profit model of increasing broadband penetration is that only the majority of Canadians who live in the 200 mile border strip will receive the service. What about the rural population?

"To further advance the province's communications infrastructure, the Provincial Government issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to build and manage an advanced communications network. Under the RFP, the communications requirements of the Provincial Government's more than 1,000 facilities that include health care institutions, libraries, schools, and other offices would have been consolidated into one provincially-owned communications network."

This provincial press release (February, 2010) also announced the RFP had been cancelled because of "anticipated project costs escalating to more than half a billion dollars."

A question that could be asked is "what other models are available aside from big corporations laying expensive cable throughout rural NL?"

Other countries, such as China are taking a different approach.

"The year 2009 has witnessed major changes in the internet development in China. The Chinese internet is no longer confined to the computer terminal, especially with the advent of mobile internet technology. The number of Chinese internet users that make use of mobile phone for browsing the internet has been growing at a fast pace. According to statistical data, the count of mobile internet users has touched the 155 million mark and shows a growth rate of 32.1% for the last six months."

Wireless internet is a reality, even in rural NL.

"Burgeo Broadcasting System is a community owned cable company that was incorporated in June of 1981. The company started to broadcast cable television in the fall of 1982. We started broadcasting four television and four radio signals in 1982 and today we can boast of having more than twenty-five cable television channels."

The BBS ICT Project was initiated in 2002.

"The Project's goal is to provide a high-speed wireless Network link between the project communities. The primary purpose of this link is for the sharing of teaching resources, for the use of telemedicine, and as the backbone of a wireless Internet link. This technology will enable the people and businesses of the region to create employment and awareness in each of the communities and at the same time enhance the already existing services such as health and education. Once the link between the five communities and the world at large is established, it will enable the communities to pool together their resources for the benefit of the region."

The project provides high speed wireless internet to Grand Bruit (45.5 km); Ramea (19.6 km); Grey River (23 km) and Francois (49.9 km).

According to Wikipedia, "the longest unamplified Wi-Fi link is a 304 km link achieved by CISAR (Center for Radio Activities) in Italy."

"In the jungle region of Peru, Loreto, is located the chain multihop WiFi based longest network of the world. This network has been implemented by the Rural Telecommunications Research Group of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. GTR PUCP The Wi-Fi chain goes through many small villages. It takes seventeen hops to cover the whole chain. It begins in Cabo Pantoja's Health Post and finish at Iquitos downtown. Its length is about 445 km. The intervention zone was established in the lowland jungle with altitudes elevations under 500 meters above sea level. It is a flat zone, for this reason GTR PUCP to installed 80 meters average height, 2.5 tons average weight."

BBS, which would seem to be a social enterprise, was contracted to install the wireless network in the Gros Morne National Park.

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