For some living in rural communities, and many in the north, spotty cell service and internet is more than just an annoyance. Now, Saskatchewan’s largest farm organization is making recommendations to improve connectivity across the province.
The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) has released a report calling for action, which includes 43 recommendations on how to improve connectivity in the prairies.
They include helping smaller providers survive in rural areas, and increasing rather than reducing competition.
“There needs to be investment in infrastructure,” said APAS vice-president Ian Boxall.
“There needs to be changes to the way that the funding is available for rolling out rural internet. There needs to be more emphasis put on this funding that the government’s offered.
“There needs to be more emphasis put on rural and remote internet and cellphone service.”
Rollovers, stranded boaters
Donna Dunham has lived at Jan Lake in northern Saskatchewan for over a decade. Trying to drive on Highway 106, her only means to get around, means she goes hours without service.
“There’s been single-vehicle rollovers, there’s been people in the ditch, there’s people whose car broke down, flat tires … you’re at the mercy of somebody coming on that highway,” she said.
“It’s amazing that we haven’t had a loss of life.”
Dunham said improvement can’t come soon enough. She said she’s had to go save people stuck on the lake before, including one family trapped close to midnight.
“She had a cellphone so she waved her cellphone light so that we could spot them there and we were able to tow them in,” she said.
“It’s a situation that in this day and age shouldn’t happen.”
SaskTel reviewing report
APAS said a lack of good internet means farmers are struggling to do many things outside of the field.
“Sometimes we can’t download what we need to download to our tractor to do a variable-rate technology,” said Paige Stewart, a farmer who helped create the report.
She said she works a second job which requires her to speak with clients and customers, and with bad cell and internet service she said it’s frustrating to try and communicate.
“The part of what makes our farm work is that we are able to work from home and farm at the same time,” she said.
In an email to Global News, SaskTel spokesperson Greg Jacobs said it is reviewing APAS’s report.
“We are firmly committed to providing the advanced communication services and technologies that residents across the province rely on,” he wrote
He added SaskTel has invested more than $3 billion since 2010 to networks and operations in the province.
“The CRTC indicates (in a 2019 report) that Saskatchewan has the best 4G LTE coverage of any province west of the Maritimes,” Jacobs said.
APAS said the federal and provincial governments, along with service providers, need to work together to improve service across Saskatchewan.