Canada Post mural (Chemainus, BC) by wyn ♥ lok (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/afdVkP

Canada Post mural (Chemainus, BC) by wyn ♥ lok (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/afdVkP

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Return to Sender: Government Committee Wants Canada Post To Help Solve Rural Broadband Woes

Does the future of Canada Post lie in offering Canadian-based cloud services and rural broadband? The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates thinks it might. The committee released a report yesterday on the future of Canada Post that ventures into the digital realm with several recommendations that will make little sense to those that closely follow digital policy in Canada. The committee report includes discussion that Canada Post could offer a Canadian-based cloud service, a Canadian social network, and rural broadband services. The recommendations include:

The federal government examine, with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the possible delivery of broadband Internet and improved cellular service to rural Canada using Canada Post real estate to house servers and offer retail services to customers.

While there is unquestionably a need to address the rural broadband access issue in Canada, there is little reason to believe that Canada Post, which brings no particular expertise and no money to invest in the actual networks, is the right organization to solve the problem.

Post offices in other countries do offer Internet services, but this report reads as if the committee did not consult anyone with expertise on the issue. The thinking would appear to be that with post offices everywhere, why not have the post office set up a server and take orders. Yet a physical space to offer service is not the issue. Indeed, by that standard, Tim Horton’s or an Esso station could do the same. The challenge with the rural broadband is the cost associated with building and maintaining networks. As the Conservative dissent notes:

the Committee did not hear substantive testimony to indicate that there is a widely-held desire for, or financially sustainable means of providing such services. The technical possibility of this proposal is also questionable. This is another example of a recommendation that is untested, uncosted, and lacks clear supporting information to make the case for such services.

After more than 15 years of trying, it is readily apparent that the economics of rural broadband require some form of public investment along with innovative approaches such as public-private partnerships, community-based networks, and wireless solutions. Looking to the post office at this time seems unlikely to advance the issue.

9 Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown says:

    Oddly enough, the arguement would probably work if the supplier was to be the CNR, which up to 1995 was a crown corporation, and actively engaged in laying communication lines on its rights of ways, which made a dense mesh across much of the inhabited parts of Canada. What it’s been doing since is not known to me, but I would be surprise it it’s divented itself of in-use rights of way

    • Ron Marshall says:

      Hi David. It would be sad irony if the thing that was key in building the country was not able to be somehow exploited to sustain it.

    • There are what the rail industry calls – or called? – abandonment processes for when the railroads want to give up particular lines to either competitors or other possible users of that land.

      Not sure that CNR would be a useful avenue for such things as proposed here, though.

  2. There are several things the could actually do:
    - Digital ID cards for every Canadian – like in Estonia. If done right could be used everywhere and save billions
    - switch to paperless delivery (open-scan-send electronically)
    - notify electronically if there is a parcel in the mailbox

    • Wiebe De Haas says:

      The Post Office did have the paperless service, in a slightly different form, in the 1980s. It also presently does offer electronic notifications for parcels and an assortment of other documents. Canada Post offered a service called Email, long before the Internet was developed.

    • Wiebe De Haas says:

      The Post Office is the backbone of communications in Canada, regardless of how it is today perceived. Once other newer technologies were introduced, and constant negative attention given it, there is a misunderstanding of how useful it still is. The ideas of returning postal banking and using postal facilities as nodes for increasing the reach of the Internet into rural and remote areas should be seen as a natural fit. To claim CPC does not have the knowledge to fulfill this idea underestimates its capability ‘to communicate’.

  3. I feel like all the Liberal’s ideas are stuff they’ve sitting on since the last time they were in power! They need to update their playbook to 2016 (at least).

  4. Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development used to be Industry. Not sure I am seeing any technical innovation from this group. Trudeau might rethink the name or function of this ministry.

  5. Having Canada Post as an ISP of last resort – in addition to its other existing and proposed services – might not be a bad thing at all.

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