When my Internet connection went down and my life skidded to a stop, I thought how much has changed in the last decade. Years ago, that would’ve meant the loss of e-mail and the use of the web as a source of information and reading, an inconvenience but no biggie. Today, my life is so interwoven with the cloud and social media, that it felt like being cut off from the world. I suddenly realised that if all my files are up in the cloud, and the Internet goes down, I’m scuppered. I wouldn’t be able to work on my writings, my photos, anything! without having to pick up and go find a live spot. And what would happen if a cyberattack brought down the entire network, like the blackout of a few years ago that put Ontario and New York and Ohio into darkness for days? I couldn’t pick up and go find a live spot then. I’d have to take a plane to the nearest online country.
On a serious note though, it does make one think about how important the Internet is, how necessary broadband has become in such a short time. I use a small ISP who has no usage charges or rate limits. However, it’s still limited by Bell technology. I’ve noticed that in the past couple of months my Internet speeds have been falling more and more; at certain times of the day, it’s impossible to watch YouTube videos, even short ones. An unreliable, slow broadband is a burgeoning issue with television supposedly moving from cable and satellite to over the Internet. At the moment, the latter constitutes a small percentage of TV viewers, but if Bell’s broadband lines are already giving under the strain, what happens next year, and the year after that as more people watch TV over the Internet, especially with services like Netflix coming online, the iPad expanding the number of mediums to watch shows on, broadcasters putting their shows and/or creating video apps for the iPad, and the various ways people can stream shows from computer to TV?
I’ve been told that although Bell laid down fibre optic lines to their neighbourhood grey boxes, they didn’t replace the copper lines from the boxes to homes. If true, that’s a bit of a problem. (And why would they do that?) Worse, many communities don’t even have broadband while programs aimed at bringing broadband to small, flung-out communities think 1Mbps is high speed! When my broadband slows down to that speed, forget any video watching. One rural non-profit group is calling for a minimum of 10Mbps, which in the long term is pokey speed. On top of all that, what Bell considers high speed for their Fibe offering, other countries consider so-so, and until they obey the CRTC’s only customer-friendly ruling, smaller ISPs are stuck at much lower speeds.
But the problem doesn’t end at slow speeds and unreliable Internet connections, it continues with the threat to net neutrality (a North American-wide fight), with the big Telcos imposing rate limiting and usage rates, which in effect discourage watching TV over the Internet unless you have money. By slowing people’s Internet speed down as they’re watching videos and charging them more if they choose to download their favourite shows, Bell and cohorts essentially reduce competition to their cable and satellite services, which IMHO are overpriced. Cable and satellite TV start at what seems like a small monthly bill but before you know it balloons to huge amounts. The CRTC say it’s for competition sake that it’s good to force the small ISPs to also charge usage rates and to have no control over rate limiting. Sounds like it’s good for the Telcos, but it sure isn’t good for Canadian citizens. And it will lead to a divide between the haves and have-nots, with the have-nots being excluded from much of what constitutes modern life and work.
Back in the 19th century, Canada’s Founding Father Sir John A. MacDonald understood that to unite the people of Canada he must build a railroad that spanned the country. Today, our generation’s railroad is high-speed Internet, true high speed Internet, not 1 Mbps, not 10, not 25, not even 50, but 100. It is the thing that brings us together effectively and in a more immediate fashion than the railroad did or Air Canada does. It allows us to know one another that simply travelling to other Canadian cities cannot do. It allows our culture to flourish in an unfettered way. Small artists, indie musicians, and authors like me have the ability to share our work in a way that was impossible only a few short years ago.
Ottawa must adopt Sir John A.’s leadership and vision. It’s time our Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition started thinking about how to bring this country together instead of how to divide it or pander to their own groups in order to win power. It’s time they built a reliable, true high speed Internet network from coast to coast to coast -- yes, even the Arctic coast, especially given the sovereignty play – a network they could then lease to the small ISPs who are happy to provide the services that Canadians want and need. This would finally force the big guys to invest properly in their own networks right up to the front door, not just to the grey box. Because in the end, the Internet has become too important to let its future lie in the hands of corporations who seek to serve only themselves. In the end, the Internet is not an option, but a necessity.