Globe on Canada’s Digital Divide

The Globe and Mail featured a lengthy story on Canada's digital divide over the weekend, noting the challenges for many rural communities in Canada seeking Internet access.


  1. Rural?
    I love the comments that appear on the G&M website. Someone inevitably quotes the myth that 80% of Canada is city dwelling according to Stats Can, which isn’t true. Stats Can says 80% live in an urban area, just make sure that you understand what they classify as an urban area (very simply it is based on the density… as a rule of thumb, look upon it as the bulk of the cities plus towns)… someone in the press or blogosphere paraphrases to say city and gives a VERY different impression. According to the 2006 census, Olds, AB, population 7248 contains absolutely 0 rural residents, and is in fact designated an Urban Area.

    Then someone talks about the use of profits from the cities to fund “rural” infrastructure upgrades, ignoring that profits from the “rural” folks helped fund the “urban” upgrades (let’s not get into government infrastructure monies…).

  2. The comments are a blast. So many opinions based on little actual knowledge. So many urban dwellers that don’t want to “subsidise” the rural. “Make ’em pay for it”.

    OK.. Check the price next time those urbanites buy a loaf of bread, or fruits, or beef, or lumber, or a car.. Anything that isn’t mined or grown within those city limits. These urban dwellers have been subsidised for years, generally out of taxpayers pockets. If they really want to stop all these subsidies, I’d suggest they start by refusing to buy food or housing that has been subsidised with their tax dollars. Ask themselves how much that loaf of bread or jug of milk would cost if the rural roads and telephones and electrical infrastructure didn’t exist.

    Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to rural vs urban living. But when the service is something critical to the big picture infrastructure of the country, it makes sense to apply subsidies. In the past this was roads, and electrical, and telephone service, now it is high speed internet. The idea that the urban dweller can live in isolation from the rural dweller, or vice versa, is ridiculous.

    You can’t leave the problem to a free market solution either. Corps live on the concept of “return on investment”. If they have 100M to invest, do they invest it in an area that will give them a ROI in 6 months or in an area that will take them 10 years? Which looks better to the shareholders? Will the board of directors even be the same in 10 years?

    This is where taxpayer dollars need to step in to equalize things. Perhaps in R&D tax breaks, perhaps in forced infrastructure. Maybe both.

  3. Oldguy, well put. The free market isn’t in the business of providing services for the most people, it is about maximizing profit. The “rural” areas of Canada (common usage, not Stats Can) often provide not enough ROI to cover the costs of the upgrades. For instance, if it costs $5000 to upgrade a telecom switch to provide a particular piece of functionality, and the minimum size of switch that can be bought is for 10,000 lines (for instance, the old NorTel DMS-100 switch), if there isn’t enough customers in the effective range of the switch then they won’t make the money back on it.

    With respect to the comments, a lot of people forget the basics. For instance, the gas tax that provides funding for urban transit takes some of its funds from the rural areas. Now, let’s look at the Infrastructure Stimulus funding. In the county I live in (Lanark), the per person federal and provincial contributions for projects totaled $0.11 per Ontario resident. Now, for the City of Ottawa projects, the per person contributions for those same sources comes to $14.27… So, while the “rural” folks are subsidized in some ways, the “urban” folks are subsidized in others.

  4. Exactly.. I grew up on a farm, but spent most of my adult life in cities and urbanised areas. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles, but they are interdependent. It makes good sense, in so many ways, to subsidize some things with taxpayer dollars or corporate incentives.