Municipal governments across Ontario recognize the importance of fast, reliable and affordable broadband and cellular connectivity. Broadband and cellular networks are essential for our residents and businesses to prosper. Connectivity has become the linchpin for all communities, and it is time that this infrastructure be considered as important as roads and bridges are to our economy and quality of life.

Gaps in cellular and internet services can be found throughout Ontario’s rural, northern, and remote areas. Some urban communities also face gaps, depending on the location. These service gaps are more evident with the COVID-19 emergency, which has moved education and non-essential businesses to remote and online delivery, combined with the need for immediate remote healthcare.
 
While there are no immediate solutions available, there are opportunities to address challenges through partnership. All parties need to be at the table. For some time, AMO has advocated for investments in connectivity by both the provincial and federal governments and telecommunications providers.

Working jointly with groups such as the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA), and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), AMO has emphasized that reliable connectivity is critical for business continuity, to retain residents (including youth) and to create livable communities.

Ontario’s varied geography and population densities compound the imbalance. For example, while 35 municipal governments serve populations over 100,000, 270 have less than 10,000 residents. There are seven million people concentrated in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, compared to about one million people living across the vast reaches of Northern Ontario.

Regardless of the municipality’s size, municipal governments are the closest service providers to Canadians, and it is our council members that hear the connectivity challenges and needs directly from residents and businesses.

Provincial and Federal Government Commitments to Date
AMO has been encouraged by the following commitments made at the higher levels of government, and think they are good first steps to recognize that connectivity is not a luxury – it’s a social, cultural and economic lifeline that all residents deserve to access at an affordable cost:
 
AMO supports these investments to fill connectivity gaps in Ontario. It’s important that the funding programs be implemented quickly so that our communities do not fall further behind.

Private Sector Investment is Critical to Success
Of course, governments cannot be the sole investors in the system. While municipal governments understand that permanent connectivity solutions will take time and vary for every community, AMO has advocated for some practical steps our telecommunications providers could take to help underserved residents connect in the interim. These actions include, but are not limited to:
  • providing low-cost Mobile Internet Sticks (USBs) to purchase at a reduced rate; and,
  • setting up wireless hotspots for residents who require Internet connectivity to be productive and stay up to date on the most important information.
AMO and ROMA recently reached out to major telecommunications industry players in a spirit of collaboration to suggest these ideas to help our most challenged communities as residents connect quickly in this time of emergency. We know also that several providers have taken other actions to help their customers and communities during the current state of emergency.

The Way Forward
AMO continues to work with other stakeholders to advance access to broadband and cellular connectivity in all of our communities, as it is one of our biggest priorities – particularly given the state of emergency surrounding COVID-19. Stakeholders include other levels of government, affiliated associations, as well as private for-profit telecommunication companies, and their affiliated associations as well.

We are all in this together. Broadband and cellular connectivity have become the basic building blocks of a modern, resilient economy and society. While it is no small task, the rewards will be worth it to make a stronger Ontario and Canada.