APAS calls for commitments to improve rural internet as campaigning begins

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WATCH: Saskatchewan's hard-hit agricultural sector wasted no time raising their voices as Canadians weigh their options for a new government – Aug 16, 2021

In a release sent out shortly after the federal election writ dropped Sunday, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) called on all parties to make commitments to fix poor rural internet access.

“Farmers and ranchers have access to technology to improve the management in our operations but we can’t use those technologies because we don’t have proper internet and cellphone service,” said APAS vice-president Ian Boxall.

“There’s a lot of rural Canada that is really truly lacking in adequate internet that urban people will take for granted. Those discrepancies need to be fixed, and that’s a main priority to help boost the rural economy in Canada.”

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In an APAS survey on rural internet conducted between May 2019 and January 2020, three quarters of respondents reported being dissatisfied with their internet access. 63 per cent of respondents reported being dissatisfied with cell service.

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Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan

To address those concerns, APAS is proposing whomever takes government establish a timeline for reviewing connectivity targets and reaching service and price parity in rural areas, direct the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to re-establish the High-Cost Serving Area fund to ensure funding for ongoing maintenance of internet infrastructure, and make strategic investments in shovel-ready projects to build out the telecommunications system as soon as possible.

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Boxall said high-speed internet access will be pivotal as agricultural technologies related to equipment, crop and soil management and autonomous vehicles advance.

“You don’t need to have a service call out to your tractor. They’re able to log in from the dealership to tell you exactly what’s wrong with your piece of equipment on some of the new stuff,” Boxall said.

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“I’m talking with guys who aren’t able to use it because they don’t have the ability, so then they’re having to pay for the service call. Some of that technology has had government support for it to be developed to benefit producers yet we’re not able to implement it because we don’t have the service.”

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Boxall is concerned that if the issue of poor rural internet access goes on long enough, it could lead to an exodus from agriculture and rural living in Saskatchewan.

“Young people might not want to move to rural Canada because of poor internet access. It’s gotten to that point,” he said.

“High speed internet and good cell coverage is a necessity and if those aren’t available people are going to choose not to live rurally in Canada and we’re going to see that really affect our rural communities and I don’t want to see that.”

Read more: New federal funding to connect 93 rural Manitoba communities to high-speed internet

In the Conservatives’ platform, unveiled Monday, the party promises to “build digital infrastructure to connect all of Canada to High-Speed Internet by 2025.”

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In their 2019 platform, the Liberal party promised to “ensure that every Canadian has access to high-speed internet by 2030.” They have not yet released a full platform for the 2021 election campaign.

The federal NDP’s have committed to “declaring high-speed internet an essential service and making sure that every Canadian has access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband within four years” including by creating a Crown corporation “to ensure the delivery of quality, affordable telecom services to every community.”

Global News has reached out to the Green Party of Canada for comment on this issue and will update this article when a response is received.

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