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

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