The City of Ottawa is 80% rural and only 10% of the population actually lives in the rural areas. Ottawa consists of over 2,800 KM2 of which 2,000 is wetlands or agricultural lands.
For an Internet service provider, this means that 90% of the subscribers are in the city. Many rural communities would actually be considered bedroom communities with the population commuting to the city for work. As an example, 70% of the population in Kemptville (before the pandemic) commuted daily to Ottawa for work. Internet infrastructure delivering high-speeds enables delivery of services for education, healthcare, connections to cloud applications, video conferencing for business (Zoom, Google, FaceTime, etc.) The high-speed Internet connections lower the cost of delivery of these services and enable consultation with citizens of the rural area in-situ, avoiding the time and cost of commuting to an urban location for the services desired. Even the ability to have rural residents purchase goods and services online is good for the environment.
The infrastructure for the municipality itself has community resource centers (CRCs) that need high speeds to allow municipal infrastructure like VOIP phones at municipal buildings, cameras with remote monitoring, sensors for temperature and precipitation, etc. for delivering community services such as healthcare (eg. vaccination clinics), recreation (arenas, baseball, and soccer facilities), seniors’ activities, etc. Businesses that wish to locate in the rural areas need similar infrastructure for similar reasons and will make their location decision based on the availability of the six utilities, of which the Internet is the number one deciding factor – just ask any economic development officer or real estate agency. Ironically the Internet is a utility most likely not planned by the municipality in contrast to utilities like sewer, water, electricity and even natural gas.
The existence of telephone or hydro poles is very important to lowering the cost of deploying fibre infrastructure as burying the fibre is a considerable cost and the poles are already included in the municipal plans as these two items were the beginning of infrastructure in rural areas, and so included as subdivisions were designed.
Rural Broadband policies/programs need to be updated. As an example the 2017 report has this reference to broadband “City of Ottawa Internet coverage – As a result of the Rural Summits of 2005 and 2008, the City has devoted financial and technical resources to facilitate access to broadband Internet access for all rural communities. This has allowed people to stay in the rural areas, start new or strengthen existing businesses, and work from home.” The referenced document is here (2006-2008 activity)
Ontario has passed legislation to assist in building rural broadband infrastructure, both improved access to poles (hydro or Bell) and the ability to bury fibre optic cable in the ROW (Right of way) is being mandated. See https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-42/session-2/bill-93
These types of plans are outdated and a complete new assessment of the state of the rural communities is needed, specially in the wake of COVID and the new realities and working/studying from home initiatives.
ROMA (the Rural Ontario Municipal Association) has relevant information on differing aspects of rural municipalities. According to the ROMA, ‘rural interests’ means looking at the unique conditions that define the rural context - such as access to socio-economic elements like income, education, and occupation - as being the most important drivers of an area’s rurality. ROMA also covers how to work with broadband suppliers quite well.
"The rural reality in Ottawa is quite unique. It is one of the biggest rural areas of any municipality in Canada and yet is difficult to compare to other rural settings that are not located close to a major city with all the services a city provides. The four CRCs that serve the majority of the rural territory are: Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre, Orléans-Cumberland CRC, Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode CRC, and Western Ottawa CRC
- The total Ottawa rural catchment population served by the 4 CRCs based on the 2011 Census is 85,400. This represents 9.67% of the total Ottawa population. It is estimated that this number is close to 100,000 in 2022.
- The City of Ottawa is more than 2800 km2 in size, most of which lies in the rural area. Approximately 1000 km2 is forested, covered by wetland, or otherwise natural. Another 1000 km2 consists of agricultural lands (City of Ottawa 2011).
The 4 CRCs providing services to the rural Ottawa population have a total of 7 FTE Community Developers to support their community. Because of the needs and services required to support our urban and suburban communities, only 1.1 FTEs are specifically dedicated to the rural community.” (Coalition Ottawa)
It is absolutely imperative that we have a new study of the needs of rural Ottawa and implement a plan that revives the rural communities, gives them better access to broadband and high-speed Internet, helps farmers transform their farms into Smart Farms (see our Smart Farms Plan), and helps build regional supply chains that will enhance food security and support for farmers to succeed and punch above their potential.