Garth Frizzell is a councillor for the City of Prince George and second vice president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. (Submitted)

COLUMN: National internet access plan needed in next federal budget

Garth Frizzell is a Councillor for the City of Prince George and Second Vice President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Imagine running a small business and not being able to sell your products online. Or being a nurse who can’t access electronic patient records. That’s the daily reality for many Canadians living in rural, remote and northern communities where poor broadband and cellular connectivity are the norm.

Right now in Prince George, the largest city in northern B.C., there are residents living within city limits without access to broadband. In our immediate region, there are vast areas with no access to high-speed internet, and critical highways networks that don’t have cellular coverage.

READ MORE: Faster internet coming to rural areas in northern B.C.

As a city promoting the natural benefits we have to attract data centres, it is critical to have reliable broadband access. Today’s competitive businesses, and our future economy, must keep pace with technology.

On a recent trip to Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, I stayed in the Frobisher Inn, a large hotel overlooking the city. While we had access to Wi-Fi, a sign on the bed urged us to not use it unless it was essential. I learned the entire territory has access to about as much bandwidth as a teenager in Toronto uses every night.

And unfortunately, for two million Canadians, fast and reliable broadband or wireless connections remain out of reach. With numbers like that, it’s clear this is a national concern, and it must be fixed.

We know we can fix this, and progress has been made in the past. Federal investments like the $500-million federal Connect to Innovate program and the CRTC’s $750-million Broadband Fund are good first steps in bringing service to hard-to-reach areas. But the job is far from done.

READ MORE: B.C. MP pushes feds to fund rural internet infrastructure

On behalf of communities from coast to coast to coast, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is advocating a plan that has received industry-wide nods of approval. And FCM is looking to this year’s federal budget, set for release March 19, to detail a clear path to achieving truly universal broadband and mobile access in Canada.

What does that plan look like?

FCM believes the budget must include a national broadband strategy with clear service standards and timelines. And that strategy needs to be backed up with support – an investment of at least $400 million per year for 10 years.

High-speed connectivity supports everything from public safety and modern education to the conditions businesses need to innovate and grow. This is about enabling all Canadians to benefit from becoming active participants in digital life –improving the overall well being of our country.

It’s 2019. In a country as vast and diverse as ours, broadband isn’t just a “nice to have” – it’s a necessity. This upcoming federal budget is the time and place to welcome all Canadians into the digital age and ensure they have access to fast and reliable internet – no matter where they live.

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