Friday, 4 December 2015

Rural Broadband and Digital Inclusion Planning

Broadband USA is hosting a Webinar titled:Rural Broadband and Digital Inclusion Planning on December 10 beginning at 1:30PM EST. The Webinar is helpful for many many aspects surrounding rural broadband internet. Those involved or supporting R2B2, government personnel, researchers and agencies involved in rural broadband are encouraged to participate in this informative opportunity.

Please read the release below and follow the link to participate.

Part 1: Gathering Information
December 10, 2015, 1:30-3PM EST

Register at

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA)
BroadbandUSA team invites you to a webinar on broadband and digital
inclusion planning in rural areas. This is the first in a series of
webinars about rural planning - future topics will include building
partnerships, marketing and outreach, broadband adoption and digital
literacy training programs. 

This webinar will cover how to gather information to best inform your
broadband and digital inclusion plan, including asset inventory, survey
data, community input and other planning resources. The speakers will share
their rural planning experiences, including a range of local, regional, and
state planning efforts.

Speakers include:

* Roberto Gallardo, Mississippi State University Extension
* Chris St Germain, Nez Pierce Tribe
* Sonja Wall, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education/OneNet
* Don Williams, NTIA

Emy Tseng and Jean Rice from NTIA will facilitate the webinar.

This webinar is targeted to local governments but may be of interest to
federal and state agencies, researchers and nonprofits. There will be ample
time for Q & A.

Thank you,

The BroadbandUSA Team

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

'Rural Broadband in Alberta' presentation from Dr.Mark Wolfe

Last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Mark Wolfe to present a R2B2 project seminar. His topic "Rural broadband in Alberta" provided us with a synopsis of the Digital Futures Symposia, convened annually in Alberta since 2013 with the most recent event held on October 15-16, 2015, in Olds, Alberta. Mark Wolfe's presentation highlighted a some key points for consideration including the following:

  • Alberta, like Southwestern Ontario, is remaking its rural and economic regional identity through new broadband investment strategies. In the words of Mark Wolfe, "a region is not a region unless it knows it is a region" and from the R2B2 project we can add the following, "a region like SW Ontario knows it is a region when it takes on the challenge of rural broadband!" A case in point: Niagara Region teaming up with the Western Ontario Wardens Caucus on the proposed SWIFT Network (

  • Mark Wolfe congratulated the Ontario Agricultural College on and he argued that we lack the type of communications that helps individuals and organizations across Canada's various provinces and territories to exchange experiences in rural broadband and its relevance to communities and regional development. He proposed that we consider a Canadian magazine along the lines of Broadband Communities  ( in the USA.

  • There is still alot of research to be done, says Mark Wolfe. Efforts, for example, for data stewardship and interactive GIS mapping of connectivity are essential. Solid research supports platforms for multi-stakeholder deliberations and decision-making.

Our thanks from the R2B2 team to Dr. Mark Wolfe, and to guests from the general public as well as OMAFRA, MEDEI, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, colleagues from Ryerson University and University of Guelph staff, faculty and students who were able to join us for this seminar! 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Interview with Mark Wolfe & Seminar on October 26

On October 26 we will be welcoming Mark Wolfe to the University of Guelph campus for a special presentation on his work in Alberta with rural broadband initiatives. He will be coming fresh from the Van Horne Institutes' Digital Futures Symposium on Rural Broadband Enablement in Olds, Alberta. He will provide insights into rural broadband initiatives in Alberta, as well as his application PLANTI and his other work in Germany.

In preparation of his visit, we have interviewed him about his current project. It is a mobile application currently called PLANTI that he has been developing. Check out the interview below to find out more about PLANTI!

               Interview Q&A                

What can you tell us about your latest project titled PLANTI?
PLANTI – derives from Esperanto, but also stands for Photo-based Logistics for Agricultural Network Technology Interaction

What led you to embark on this project?
Pure serendipity — my Airbnb host in Berlin this past March turned out to be a partner in this start-up venture. When we began comparing notes just conversationally, the overlap between their interests and my background in rural broadband enablement in Alberta and Canada was a bit freaky but also an immediate fit. I was introduced to the partners right away and we agreed to work on a North American angle, starting with SME ag producers in Canada as a test market.

What is the premise or framework?
The mobile app will use gamification technology to simplify and streamline the supply chain for local small and medium sized producers, distributors and purchasers. Using the smart phone to geo-tag photo records of products and shipment specifics build in record keeping while “putting a face to the food” – thereby encouraging transparency and enduring trust relationships. Financial transactions are also built in, recorded and tracked, thereby streamlining the payment process as well.

Intended purpose?
The primary purpose of the app is to substantially increase the overall efficiency of the producer-consumer value chain, thereby reducing food wastage and improving the economics for small/medium producers and retail consumers.

Who is involved?
Access the website for principles and key members of the team:

What’s the eventual format and how will it function?
Still in development; hopefully I’ll have more on this by the time I come to Guelph.

What challenges do you expect in the uptake process of this app?
Part of my role is to design and oversee testing of the application, which will probably happen in Hungary as a first pilot project. This will involve in-depth qualitative analysis of end-user interaction with the technology

To whom will this app be most beneficial to? What are those benefits?
Smaller producers, especially those moving smaller amounts of produce into the wholesale and direct sale system. Greater and more timely movement of food volumes will cut waste, thereby increasing profits and long-term farmer and supply chain sustainability. In that sense, the app also has potential application in the urban agricultural and community gardening movements.

What development processes are you incorporating prior to widespread release?
The app itself is in coding and pre-testing, with farmers’ market testing being done; concurrently, the qualitative research design

Is this app viable on a global scale or is aimed at certain regions? What impact is PLANTI anticipated to have on supply chains and food systems?
The app has direct relevance to those jurisdictions, such as Eastern Europe, where the supply chain is still rooted in a smaller producer ecosystem. In Hungary, for example, more than 500,000 farms are 4 hectares or less in size. That’s a huge market dying for efficiency. But in principle the app is also scalable and could have a role in precision agriculture domains as well where likewise distribution systems could use some fine tuning.

How does the importance of rural broadband access relate to PLANTI? 
The app depends on robust wireless broadband, which of course is typically under girded by fibre infrastructure.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Incoming Rural Internet Investments to help Connect Canadians

Election campaigns are ramping up across the country and there is a flurry of announcements from the Federal government relating to connecting Canadians.

Canada's 150th celebration is approaching in a few years and in preparation, Canada has launched its' Digital Canada 150 strategy. First announced back in 2011, this strategy is aimed at preparing Canada for the digital future, making sure Canadians remain competitive in the global market. This announcement included a statement saying 98% of Canadians will be connected with a minimum target speed of 5mbps. Accompanying that is $305M provided to invest in rural high-speed internet services.

As part of the current federal election campaigns, PM Harper announced in Lancaster, Ontario that the conservatives would provide an additional $200M mainly for fibre service to further improve rural broadband. As part of the announcement, Harper indicated the Digital Canada 150 internet initiatives are on track and are on budget and are already surpassing the set goals.

Following this, Trudeau announced that the Liberal would double infrastructure spending to the tune of $125B over the next 10 years to jump start the economy. Portions of these funds would be allocated for communications infrastructure, bringing better internet service to unserviced and under-served Canadians.

Regardless of which party prevails in the October election, Canadians' rights to having access  to high-speed internet service are being addressed. There is an understanding among all parties that ubiquitous high-speed internet access in essential to the growth of the Canadian economy.

This is great news for Ontarians should this funding happen. Earlier this year, the Ontario Liberals announced in their Moving Ontario Forward plan that some of the $11.5B allocated for infrastructure will be designated for ultra high-speed broadband (See previous post here).

Adding up the potential incoming investments in broadband infrastructure, it's clear that positive change and meaningful expansions are coming for rural areas with this unprecedented funding.


Friday, 28 August 2015

RBC Report on Fibre Investment

Image via Barta IV
"Over the next decade, we believe FTTH will play an increasingly important role in determining returns for investors in the Canadian telecom sector..."
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Capital Markets has released research on the investment outlook of Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) service that provides perspective for investors in the telecom sector. Essentially it is examining the ROI for deploying FTTH and what that all entails.

Some interesting results have surfaced in this research that shows the importance of bringing this modern service to all Canadians. Fibre is reservedly being referred to as the last leap-frog technology for Canadian telecoms since Fibre is a scalable technology that makes non-incremental step-function gains possible. This is important because the payback for investing in FTTH is anywhere from 8-18 years according to RBC. A long term payback on a technology that will be around for at least as long and can be scaled up is attractive to investors.

RBC doesn't hide the fact the FTTH is a costly investment that only few companies can afford. The big telcos/cablecos have the capital to be able to rapidly deploy Fibre and survive until they start making a return. Some recommendations to mitigate over-expenditures are to use route through existing fibre rather than overlap services and consider the much cheaper aerial installation rather than buried lines.

The demand for Fibre speeds have been rising over the years with users depending on it as a alternative to traditional television and communication services. This increased demand is responsible for revisiting the feasibility of large scale FTTH roll-out.

However, FTTH remains a less feasible option for rural applications. The report acknowledges as much by repeating the long held argument that rural fibre is unlikely to payout to telecom providers. The report suggests telcos focus on new wireless tech to bring fibre-like service to unserviceable rural areas. Rural areas are in no less need of fibre service than urban areas, the only difference is household density.

The report goes on to forecast that local incumbents aiming to provide FTTH could face potential competition with Google.  Google has begun deploying fibre services in select US cities at a fraction of a cost of competitors. If local providers don't step up deployment and service, they could see their efforts and investments marginalized. With new mandates coming from the government stipulating minimum service standards for all Canadians, ISPs need to invest now and look forward at the big picture.

Click here to view the complete RBC Capital Investments report.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Internet regulated as a Utility?

Does the internet need to be regulated the way electricity is?
Much debate has arisen over the years about the unfair prices of internet access. The communications oligopoly in Canada is seen by many to be bad for the wallets of Canadian. There is often little choice of what service to use and often are left with a hefty bill. This victimization has led to suggestions that internet service should operate as a utility to enable fair pricing.

Internet is quickly becoming the main way Canadians communicate to each other by voice, email, and video. Telephone service is going by the wayside for many as it is seen as an unnecessary expense and a dated technology. Telephone was established as a utility that every Canadian had a right to have access to. With internet now serving the role as a main communication tool, some wish to see increased regulation.

In urban areas, internet service is for the most part guaranteed. With Bell and other incumbents, as Bell's Gigabit Fibe service stands at $150 compared to Old's gigabit service O-net priced at $120 and Urbanfibre in Vancouver priced even lower at $69. Small ISP's offer lower rates, but are only available in small areas, Bell will get many customers just because those customers have not other option if they want faster speeds.
well as smaller ISP's, announcing 1 gigabit fibre service in many urban centres, cost are also sky-rocketing to obtain these services. The introductory price for

Adding to arguments that internet should be a regulated service, with the onset of gigabit service, the urban-rural divide is increasing. The new investment and roll-outs of gigabit are only occurring in urban settings such as Toronto, Quebec City. No mention is made of rural areas receiving internet infrastructure investments.

Can the internet be treated as a utility? Will that help bring faster service to rural Ontario? With initiatives like SWIFT already making headway in bringing gigabit service to rural Southwestern Ontario. With an aim to bring 1 Gbps service to 3.5 million people for under $100, regulation may not be the best answer. Adding more players to the market can increase competition and lower prices, and help bring high-speed service to under-served areas that deserve parity with their urban counterparts.


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Precision Agriculture in Ontario

The following article is a great snapshot into the progress of precision agriculture here in Ontario. These efforts by Grain Farmers of Ontario in collaboration with OMAFRA and Niagara College are enabling farmers in Ontario to use precision ag applications to improve yields, fertilization rates, and ultimately to improve the bottom line and ROI for farm businesses. These applications require high-speed internet to be able to send the data and enable reports to be sent back to the farmer. Obtaining a suitable internet connection has been a major obstacle for many farmers trying to use and adopt these technologies.

The complete article is quoted below in verbatim and you can also view the article where it was originaly posted here.

In 2013, Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) met with a number of farm service companies and producers to discuss what obstacles exist to farmers getting started with precision agriculture techniques. The group created a list of research topics that would benefit farmers and consultants in Ontario and committed to a collaborative effort to identify repeatable best practices related to data collection, data usage, management zone definition, deployment of site-specific input prescriptions, and defining the tangible benefits of precision agriculture.

Spring Update: Wow planting 2015 flew by this year, so much so that we actually missed getting some of those prescription maps loaded on a couple of the Grain Farmers of Ontario precision ag sites this year! This is the first time we attempted implementing automated Learning Blocks™ or spatial “validation blocks”. Figure 1 shows an example of a prescription map of variable rate soybean populations. OMAFRA staff who are involved in this project will generate response curves within each management zone using this approach to validate that the zones and prescriptions applied to each zone are optimal. What is nice about the Learning Blocks™ is that they don’t take up much real estate across this field, and they are located within a management zone. Premier Equipment has brought this online analytical web service to Ontario from Premier Crop Systems of West Des Moines, Iowa that automates the Learning Block™ report done in each zone and in each population block for all of their precision ag clients.
Figure 1: Variable Rate Soybean population map with automated Learning Blocks™ built into the map (Source: Premier Equipment & Premier Crop Systems

These automated Learning Blocks™ are implemented without any manual control by the grower during planting. The learning blocks help to answer questions such as “was this good economics against my average rate that I would normally apply uniformly across the field?” or “was the prescription rate that is applied within a specified management zone the correct rate?” If you are just getting started, and the management zones defined are not built on enough data that accurately defines the variability in that field, then the learning blocks help to understand what worked well and what did not work well in the prescription map.

A major part of the Grain Farmers of Ontario project is the development of a web portal by collaborators at Niagara College. The portal is both a data repository for the project and a transparent technology demonstrator for the tools needed to do precision ag. The portal, accessed online, houses all of the various data layers from each farm and has built-in algorithms and tools for cleaning and analysing data. It allows farmer and crop consultant collaborators to upload and manipulate their own data, while the researchers can access and analyse the data of all participants – it makes uploading and sharing data easy amongst project collaborators.

Other commercial software platforms also offer the tools needed to automate seeding rate checks spatially across each field. Figure 2 shows a similar approach in SMS Advanced desktop software from AgLeader. This is a template from Veritas of Chatham Ontario, where blocks are the width of the planter and align with the direction of planter passes. The post-harvest analysis of the management zone and the block performance is also relatively automated and results in an economic report provided by Veritas to each of their clients.

Figure 2. 2015 Variable Rate corn population map: yield potential index (YPI) zones built in Niagara College portal then checks built into the prescription map (Source: Veritas

Stay tuned for more reports on the precision ag project initiated by Grain Farmers of Ontario. Right now the collaborators are busy conducting PSNT sampling and developing sidedress variable rate nitrogen strategies with automated checks built into the maps. Project staff are also out doing manual population counts across zones and within learning blocks and strips.

For more information on the Grain Farmers of Ontario project and how the management zones are being created tune into the project website: There is also a Grain Farmers of Ontario magazine article series being written by OMAFRA staff on the fundamental data pieces of a precision ag approach (Note: archived article shown on the bottom right of this webpage). This is an 8 part series which describes the different data layers that might be purchased or collected as part of a precision ag strategy and how they can be combined to develop prescription maps.

This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario. Funding has also been provided by Grain Farmers of Ontario. - See more at: follow this link

Monday, 20 July 2015

Planning for Rural Resilience

The recent publication Planning for Rural Resistance edited by Wayne Caldwell examines what it takes to ensure future viability of rural communities. Resilience refers to the ability of a system to withstand stress and recover back to or better than it's original state. While the focus of the book is on energies and climate change, there is also mention of agriculture and sustainability. Technology is a key factor in establishing a resilient agricultural business.

In one case study, a farmer decided to counteract rising energy costs through adoption of technologies that keep operation costs down and improve crop outputs. Modern farming technologies depend on the use of high-speed internet connections across the farm, making internet access an integral factor to rural resilience.

We interview Wayne Caldwell who is the Director of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Studies (SEDRD) at the University of Guelph in addition to being a professor. Following are a few responses to questions we asked relating his book to the R2B2 Project and it's focus on rural broadband.
Question 1: What is the most important challenge currently facing rural communities in Ontario?
Click here for book info. 

Wayne: In some ways I think the most important challenge for rural communities is to anticipate and respond to change. Whether the issue is economic, environmental, or social rural communities are facing new and evolving issues that will challenge their capacity to respond. Examples include the need to respond to an evolving agricultural sector, climate change, and an ageing population. For each of these issues there’s the need for leadership and innovation.
Question 2: Do you think that connecting (internet) communities is an important factor in establishing rural resilience?
Wayne: Yes I do. Information, education and capacity development are important and can help to ensure that a community is well informed and aware of appropriate actions and strategies that can help respond to some of these changes.
Question 3: What role does agriculture play in rural resilience? Will technological improvements such as high-speed internet access for rural farming aid in rural resilience?
Wayne: For many rural communities, agriculture is a key aspect of the local economy. It should be noted that there are various models and approaches to agricultural production. In some instances agriculture has gotten larger and more intense, while in other instances there is the opportunity for small-scale production. The key point being that agriculture will continue to be important for many of these communities. Equally, technological improvements such as high speed Internet access will assist all farmers helping them to be more competitive and innovative. This will assist agriculture from an economic perspective, however hi-speed Internet can also ensure that farmers have access to the best information that will help them to farm with minimal impact on the environment.
 We want to thank Wayne for taking the time to talk with us about his latest publication and showing us how rural connectivity fits in to the idea of rural resilience. Broadband is one of many aspects that will help rural communities and agricultural businesses to prepare for the future unknowns.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Google already exploring ways to connect the rural population

Some of you may have already heard of the ambitious Project Loon by Google. The ultimate goal of Project Loon is to provide internet access to the 2 out of every 3 rural people in the world today who aren't connected yet to the Internet. This is a global initiative that Google hopes to eventually roll out world-wide. The video above shows a simple advantage that internet access can provide to a rural farmer in New Zealand's South Island. Something as regular as checking weather forecasts was a difficult task, until Google came along.

Google is a massively successful company and are one of the few in the world that can take on a project of this scale and complexity. The delivery method is through balloons, yes balloons and not to be confused with this past week’s news item of the lawn chair pilot from Calgary! The Google balloons are similar to weather balloons. The balloons carry Google's technology into the stratosphere, providing 40 square kilometres of coverage via an LTE signal. Currently, the balloons can stay afloat for 100 days until they make a controlled descent. Google has had to develop extensive support networks to make this project viable, including improved manufacturing, control centres, and mobile deployment teams.

Google works with local telecos (telecommunications companies) to deploy and provide coverage where it is most needed and to allow users to benefit from Project Loon through their existing mobile plans and devices. The balloons are essentially relays to extend existing networks, providing coverage in areas that could not be serviced through traditional methods. Connectivity gaps and line-of-sight are overcome with Project Loon.

Watch this video below for a more technical briefing on Project Loon.

Google has the capability to follow through on this technology. They have already invested a lot of money and many years of effort on this initiative. Just the fact that Google has invested this much in rural internet connectivity is an indication that they understand the benefit to connecting everyone. Whether it is for their own corporate benefit or for communication as a basic human right, connecting the remaining 2 out of 3 people who have no access to the Internet holds vast potential, not the least of which are benefits for education and food security around the globe. Of course, to extend existing networks there has to be robust and accessible networks to access via Project Loon. Rural users also have to be able to have access to affordable connections. In any case, Project Loon has taken up the challenge of levelling the playing field between urban and rural connectivity.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Benefits of High-Speed Internet access in Rural Communities

In spring 2015, Canada set a new target of 5Mbps as a minimum internet connection threshold to be provided to 98% of all Canadian. While most urban areas are currently enjoying 25mbps speeds, many rural areas are below the 5Mbps minimum. Why then is a 5Mbps target an acceptable base speed when the majority of urban Canada has five times that speed? Unraveling the issue begins with addressing a long-held 'density versus profit' argument. Providing urban services to rural areas has historically been too expensive to justify.

In order to justify the investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure, there needs to be compelling metrics to prove return on investment and that higher speeds are needed. No one can assume that "if we build it they will come" even if service is available for free.

A pilot project was carried out last summer in Honey Harbour, Ontario in the Muskoka region to collect data on internet use. The Township of Georgian Bay along with a local SILEC, setup public WiFi access in several of the towns' most visited areas. Honey Harbour in the summer is a hot spot for cottagers to shop and resupply. The hilly, wooded terrain make existing wireless internet services to cottages a challenge and so when visitors, cottagers and local residents come to town, everyone wants to check their email, Facebook, view Google maps, or load some Netflix shows to watch back at the cottage.

The results of the 6 week pilot project revealed that 4.5 terabytes of data were downloaded and 1.2 terabytes were uploaded by 2300 users at an average rate of 30Mbps. That's an average of almost 2 GB per user over an average session of 55 minutes. This suggests that solid demand for ultra high-speed internet access exists in small town and rural Ontario on the basis of tourists/cottagers alone, without taking in to account the permanent residents and businesses.

Ancillary benefits that were seen as a result of this pilot project were that more people spent time in the town, frequenting restaurants and retail shops at an increased rate, providing a boost to local shops. Online activity for local business also realized opportunities as customers were able to 'like' them on social media and provide reviews on Trip Advisor.

The pilot project identified benefits for the small town of Honey Harbour, all because of the addition of public internet hot spots for users that do not otherwise have access.

This case is an example of how internet access can raise awareness about broadband connectivity and its benefits to rural tourism in Ontario.

Source article: Click here

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Precision Agriculture and Data capacity

The notion that farmers are simple, uneducated people is mistakenly believed by many. In fact, the opposite is becoming more truthful everyday as farmers are adopting new technologies to bring their operations into the age of Precision Agriculture. Watch this video to see this how Rick Willemse, President of Yellow Gold Farms in Parkhill, Ontario and Mike Duncan, researcher in precision agriculture from Niagara College collaborate to develop a way of turning the vast amounts of data into useful decision making tools.

With the rising use of precision agriculture and the accumulation of 'Big Data', there will be an increased demand for internet bandwidth to be able to handle the data transfers to and from cloud services. As part of our research for the R2B2 Project, we are looking at these types of systems, identifying the data requirements, and use that information to determine the broadband connections needed to support this growing sector. In so doing, we can analyse the gap between existing broadband and what capacity is needed to fully support precision agriculture as its use expands through Southwestern Ontario.

(Article Source can be found here.)

Monday, 29 June 2015

MEDEI Announces Moving Ontario Forward Public Consultations

As part of Ontario's largest planned infrastructure investment, the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastructure (MEDEI) is launching public consultations across Ontario. This will enable communities to provide input as to where the province should direct the investments. Planned investments include roads, bridges, health centres, schools, and broadband internet.

Following is the news article of the announcement from;

Ontario is consulting with communities across the province to ensure local priorities are heard as part of the development of a long-term plan to build roads, bridges, transit, hospitals and schools.
Feedback provided will inform the province when determining how to allocate the remaining $11.5 billion of a $15 billion investment outside the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area as part ofMoving Ontario Forward, Ontario's long-term plan to build critical infrastructure in communities across the province.
This funding is part of the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario's history -- more than $130 billion over 10 years. The government's plan to build Ontario up is supported by a number of initiatives, including broadening the ownership of Hydro One -- an approach that raises billions for infrastructure.
Roundtable consultation meetings will be held in these communities.
Ontarians can also provide feedback online or in writing by September 18, 2015.
Moving Ontario Forward is part of the government's plan to build Ontario up. The four-part plan includes investing in people's talents and skills, making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario's history, creating a dynamic, innovative environment where business thrives, and building a secure retirement savings plan.
The public is encouraged to participate to ensure the needs of their communities are brought forward and heard. Rural broadband is important to many aspects of a community and ensures that they remain economically viable. Click here to see when you can attend a consultation near your community.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

OECD Rural Development Background Report

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - OECD had their 10th annual Rural Development Conference in May in Memphis, Tennessee. The background report released in conjunction with this conference analyses the success of the New Rural Paradigm policy from 10 years ago and looks at directions to take going forward to improve rural economies and well-being.

To provide some context here is some information about the OECD. The OECD promotes policies that improve economic and social well-being of people across the world. Canada is a member of this organization. They help members to adapt policies and programmes that are in line with their principles. OECD provides comparative data analysis and benchmarks for countries to assess their economic and social development.
The following statement taken from the New Rural Policy report outlines the importance of rural regions on national economic growth:
Our empirical work on the determinants of regional growth in recent years has highlighted the growth potential of rural regions. The widespread perception that “rural” is somehow synonymous with “decline” is simply wrong. Indeed, rural regions in the OECD area recorded an average annual rate of growth of GDP per capita of around 1.7% over the period 1995-2011 – higher than the average growth rates of urban and intermediate regions growing at 1.5% and 1.4%, respectively. This is evidence that rural regions are converging. (OECD, 2015, p.13)
The numbers clearly show the importance of rural region economies in the past and potentially more so in the future. To maintain these rural regions as a positive contribution to national economies going forward, essential services need to be available ubiquitously without restriction.

The limiting factor for why this hasn't happened everywhere is typically due to high cost of rural servicing compared to urban areas. The table below from the report lists factors that affect the delivery costs of services to rural areas:

(OECD, 2015, p.29)
These factors limit the ability of governments to direct investments where they will be most effective. In the past governments limited themselves to investing in economic sectors or infrastructure as a means to promote rural business. That standard is no longer applicable as there has been no measurable impact of rural accessibility on rural economic growth in most cases. Governments are having to find different strategies to support rural economic growth.

This report offers up some practices that have helped OECD Countries in improving rural services. Those practices include consolidation, co-location or merging of services, mobile services, community based services, technology improvements, alternative energy, and innovations. Adoption and integration of these practices can bring new opportunities enjoyed in urban areas to less populated communities.

An underlying aspect of rural economic improvement that is often mentioned is broadband internet. Access to high speed internet is often a catalyst for other changes. This can be access to markets beyond the rural communities, access to new technologies and education, a source for innovative changes, and a way of connecting businesses to their clients.

Ubiquitous high speed internet access is viewed by OECD as a game-changer in rural economies. The potential benefit can be difficult to measure at the onset, but the cost of providing services to smaller communities need to be considered against the overall benefit to the economy and to society.
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,. New Rural Policy: Linking Up For Growth. OECD, 2015. Web. 23 June 2015.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Farm Level Approach to Precision Agriculture

Example of precision agriculture technology from Farmer's Edge.

To listen to the interview from Real Agriculture, please follow this link.

We came across and want to share this article and interview as it touches on the importance of Big Data in agriculture and, in an indirect way, the importance for rural broadband internet. Agronomists Wade Barnes and Curtis MacKinnon, co-founders of Farmer's Edge, understand the need to collect Big Data and use that information to aid agriculturalist experts and farmers in making informed decisions.
“I’m a huge believer in how big data can make big changes in agriculture. Our goal is to create the big data so we can do analytics and make those changes.” - Wade Barnes
The focus of Farmer's Edge and the use of Big Data is placed on the individual farmers, not corporations or analytic firms. The data needs to be able to have relevance to the farmer. When farmers can use the data to make positive, informed decisions that help their bottom line, adoption of precision agriculture technologies can spread further.

The obstacle that stands in the way of effective collection and analysis of this Big Data is in being able to transmit the data. Many rural agricultural communities that do not have adequate internet connections will not be able to fully participate is this new age of Big Data. Barnes & MacKinnon are all too aware of the economic advantage of accurate analysis of data and how that can help farmers. Access to broadband and fibre internet speeds in rural areas is essential to the widespread adoption of technological advantages, such as the tools from Farmer's Edge, that many can benefit from.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Rural Broadband Investment - Moving Ontario Forward

Excerpt from Moving Ontario Forward - Outside the GTHA

The Ministry of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastrcture (MEDEI) released a report last week outlining the provincial support of improving infrastructure, allocating $130 billion over the next 10 years, outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

This announcement is a major boost for rural Ontario's economic challenges. It is great to see the need to invest in rural ultra high speed broadband has been recognized and is part of future infrastructure improvements. The above excerpt from the report specifically mentions ultra high speed broadband as a targeted investment to enhance economic growth. Click on the excerpt to read through the brief 8 page report.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Innovation strategies with Dr.Boelie Elzen

Recently we had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. Boelie Elzen held at OMAFRA in Guelph, ON. Dr. Elzen is a research consultant in the Netherlands and is involved in the area of innovation for sustainability and knowledge translation and transfer (KTT). He focuses on livestock research, seeking methods for innovative changes.

His presentation focused on an innovation strategy that would improve the livestock sectors' innovation system, saying that it should be fundamentally altered to improve production, processing and consumption. Dr. Elzen and his research team have devised a system they call 'Portfolio of Promises' or PoP. The structure of this innovation strategy is designed to permit input from all levels; academic research, corporate, and the individual farmer. 

Historically, innovation systems function in a top-down approach, as Dr. Elzen notes. This means research that resulted in innovations being introduced to an economic sector has been mandated by government or corporations onto the end user; in this case, the farmers. Dr. Elzen proposes a bottom-up approach that is more supportive of fostering innovation. 

The PoP would be a database featuring input from farmers as well as traditional sources of innovation. Each item in the portfolio would outline an idea, its function and the benefits or promise that the solution provides. In creating this portfolio that would be widely accessible, farmers would be able to connect with others that have similar ideas or problems and can share innovative ideas or work together towards a solution. 

The research function of this portfolio is such that areas of study can focus on what is important to the farmer. Current trends indicate a growing resistance by farmers against research. Dr. Elzen attributes this to constantly changing research outcomes, and study after study that steadily increases operating costs. 

Innovation systems starting at the bottom would enable testing at the farmer level where success or failure can be determined prior to more substantial investment and adaptation or adoption. Dr. Elzen believes this to be a strong approach to stimulate change in behaviour in the livestock sector to become more sustainable and innovative.

The question remains though if the change in behaviour is also supported by institutional changes in the innovation system to support new ways of doing R&D? For example, in Netherlands, this shared knowledge database is a viable option for farmers to adopt because they have access to ubiquitous high-speed broadband networks. 

Applying this innovation system to Ontario, however, would meet many challenges as farm families and rural agricultural businesses do not have universal access to high speed broadband infrastructure and mobile Internet services that support cloud-based or data intensive applications. A shared database would not be accessible to all and would limit the inclusiveness of innovation. We will continue to explore the premise that opportunities to improve systems of innovation that directly affect Ontario’s economy are missed because of the lack of high-speed broadband in rural areas and some regions of the Province.

Image source here. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Thursday, 28 May 2015

CRTC initiates broadband assesment across Canada

In an effort to establish an accurate database of actual broadband speeds, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has launched a new program in partnership with SamKnows.

The program asks for volunteers to have a physical device hooked up to their existing hard-line internet connection that will feed connection speed data back to the CRTC and ISP's for analysis. The data can also be viewed by the volunteers via an online dashboard.

The device, called a Whitebox, collects only transmission rate performance data when no one is actively using the network so that it can get an accurate measure of the broadband download and upload speeds. Volunteer privacy is ensured and no internet usage habit or activity are claimed to be recorded by the device.

This project is part of the 
CRTC commitment to 5Mbps base broadband speed for Canadians, or specifically 98% of the population , according to the Digital Canada 150 strategy. While this target is an improvement on the 1.5Mbps previous base speed, it is unlikely unable to support agricultural applications that increasingly depend on high-speed or ultra high-speed  “always on” or synchronous broadband connections.

CRTC’s Whitebox requires volunteers to have a 5Mbps connection. We encourage rural Internet users to join the program. Nevertheless, there will be some interested users who do not qualify for the program because they currently lack the 5Mbps service. Is this one more reason to support further analysis of broadband in rural Ontario? We think so.

(Sources: &

Friday, 15 May 2015

Welcome to our new blog!

This blog will help research partners, collaborators and supporters to stay informed and connected to the activities and progress of this research project. Our project partners and supporters can be found in the Project Partners tab at the top of the page.

In the coming weeks, research team members will be added to the site and more content will be uploaded relating to this project. Check back often or follow by email on the right column to be notified via email when we post new items. For questions or inquiries about this project please use the form on the Contact Info page.