Banner of Communicator October 2020 Executive Director's Note
Photo: iStock.com/shotbydave

Better cellular and internet access for rural communities and ag retail businesses.

There is a major disparity in the access to Canadian telecommunications and internet services between urban and rural communities.

Whether you’re at home, in the barn, in the field, or in ag retail, your smartphone should be able to use LTE. You should have an internet connection with access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps to download, 10 Mbps to upload and access to unlimited data.

The CRTC states that 85.7 percent of Canadians and 40.8 percent of rural communities have access to a ratio of 50:10 download and upload. That is a significant difference between access and coverage for agriculture production, farm residences, and rural towns and communities.

In early January 2019, CRTC announced the Broadband Fund, a $750 million fund distributed over five years supporting projects addressing the urban-rural divide. The goal is to provide all Canadians access to a minimum of LTE capabilities. Depending on the geographic location, Canadian farms and ag retail operations should be considered remote for broadband capabilities.

How does 5G line up? Bell Canada launched their commercial 5G service in June targeting Montreal, the Greater Toronto Area, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver with 28 additional markets this year. Bell’s competitors, Rogers Communications and TELUS, aim to rollout 5G to urban areas with 20 and 28 additional markets, respectively, by year’s end. For now, expect rural and remote communities to have limited cellular and internet access, unless you’re in the vicinity of a major metropolis.

In June 2020, the Government of Canada announced a six-month postponement of its 3.5 spectrum auction process to support focus on providing essential services to Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. The auction is now scheduled to start on June 15, 2021.

Why is this important? The ag industry’s response to COVID-19 has been to seek solutions to maintain connectivity with farmers, retailers and suppliers. The face-to-face business tradition
has evolved rapidly. Agriculture trade shows, meetings and tours have moved to virtual online platforms. Farmer and ag industry staff meetings related to updates, logistics and management direction heavily rely on wireless telecommunications like audio and video. Are these novel changes here to stay? Only time will tell. For the short run, the answer is yes.

Farmers have also actively sought new technologies to maintain support. In many instances, the technology was already available but underutilized. Farmers, ag retailers and suppliers with positive experiences will continue to use wireless technologies, setting a new standard of service and response time. The stumbling point is in the access, coverage and reliability.

The USDA released a report titled “A Case for Rural Broadband” in April 2019. The report states broadband coverage for farm, rural businesses and communities is a priority. Last December, the Federal Communications Commission and the Agriculture Broadband Coalition announced a $9 billion 5G fund for 5G carriers in rural United States. They also set aside $1 billion from the fund for precision agriculture.

For the Canadian agriculture industry, land coverage is equally important as connecting individuals. Without a defined Canadian agriculture broadband strategy, access and coverage of reliable broadband will expand at a snail’s pace.

At the time of writing, the September 2020 Canadian Throne Speech was days away from release. Many people are concerned with the potential addition of carbon taxes. The taxes may further burden the agriculture industry at a time when the industry is still recovering from the 2019 “harvest from hell,” political trade and transportation disruptions.

I advise all of you to identify any disruptions or shortfalls supporting the advancement of broadband expansion and upgrades. Federal and provincial telecommunications leaders need to understand how broadband is critical to the ag industries supporting farmers upstream and down. A Canadian agriculture broadband strategy must be led by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The Canadian agriculture industry remains a shining star to the nation’s economic recovery. We must continue to enable growth without burden.

Thank you,

Mitch Rezansoff

Executive Director, CAAR

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