Rural, remote Canadians still lack affordable internet access: report

The auditor general says only 59.5 percent of rural and remote Canadians have access to the government's minimum target for high speed internet

Despite the government’s recent boast that over 90 percent of Canadian homes had access to high-speed internet, a new report from the Office of the Auditor General revealed those living in rural and remote areas still lack access.

Auditor general Karen Hogan released the report Monday, detailing that only 59.5 percent of Canadians living in rural and remote areas had access to the government’s minimum internet speed targets of 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload. The report goes on to note “the remaining households that did not have access to these Internet speeds represented 1.4 million unserved or underserved households.”

Access for  First Nations was even worse, with only 42.9 percent having access in 2021.

Availability of high-speed internet as of the end of 2021 | Image credit: Office of the Auditor General

The report also highlighted that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which have separated funding programs for rural broadband projects, didn’t measure whether access was affordable.

The report’s conclusion notes that neither ISED or the CRTC “could tell Canadians whether the affordability of Internet and mobile cellular connectivity had improved.”

The report does acknowledge that ISED tracks prices for telecom services but said ISED’s “strategy did not include any national indicators or targets to evaluate whether its affordability outcomes were being achieved.”

“When services are of poor quality, unaffordable or unavailable, people are effectively excluded from participating fully and equally in the digital economy, accessing online education, banking, medical care and government services or working remotely,” Hogan told reporters at a press conference Monday.

The report found that only 40 percent of the $2.4 billion in federal funding available for use by the 2022-23 fiscal year had been spent as of January 2023. At the press conference, Hogan explained that was due to how slowly ISED and CRTC approved projects — so slow that some service providers abandoned projects.

Finally, the report warned that the government should consider whether the 50/10 speed target will be adequate going forward. The government aims to connect 98 percent of Canadians by 2026 and 100 percent by 2030, but it should update the speed target for those goals if needed.

You can read the full report here.

Header image credit: Shutterstock

Source: Office of the Auditor General Via: National Post

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