Access to high-speed internet is a must for life and business for most people.
With more and more processes moving to cloud-based and remote access, businesses depend on reliable internet for bookkeeping, client management, scheduling, and meetings as well as applications like marketing and research. There are very few aspects of business that don’t have an online component. It also spans all business sectors, with rural sectors like agriculture and mining pushing for better connections so they can make better use of technology to make them more efficient and competitive.
Our personal lives are very similar. It’s where we interact socially, find entertainment, shop, make reservations, and attend school.
Yet our community, along with many others across the province, has been lacking in consistent, reliable high-speed internet access.
While the problem is more prevalent in rural areas, there are places within Peterborough’s city limits that are considered underserviced and have been put on a provincial priority list.
Recently, the Government of Ontario announced it had concluded its procurement process and signed agreements with eight different internet providers for its plan to expand broadband internet access.
Locally, this includes the City and all eight townships of Peterborough County as part of a deal with Rogers Communications Canada, Bell Canada, and Xplornet Communications worth $894.8 million. The agreements should provide an estimated 266,600 un- and under-serviced businesses and homes with high-speed broadband internet.
This deal will build on the ongoing efforts to increase connectivity. It follows years of advocacy from chambers of commerce, boards of trade, business improvement areas, municipalities, the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus, industry associations, cottage associations, and many of the people who have struggled with internet access in their home or business. It’s largely a non-partisan issue with different governments passing on the broadband torch to the next government.
The issue isn’t about intention. There isn’t really any opposition. The issue is follow-through. This is part of a program that has been running for more than a decade. Progress has certainly been made over that time with many communities receiving or getting upgraded internet service thanks in part to government investments. But there are still 266,000 homes and businesses in Ontario struggling to interact with the modern world.
Adding further complexity is that the remaining areas left to service are likely the more difficult ones. Infrastructure projects like this tend to focus on the easy wins that provide the best bang for the buck off the start before making their way to the more complicated and sometimes hyperlocal issues.
The last couple of years have certainly added urgency to the situation as the need for online access moved ahead in leaps and bounds.
The Government of Ontario has set a target of connecting every corner of the province by 2025. For those without proper internet, that’s still three long years away.
Our advocacy efforts need to focus on keeping pressure on our government and internet providers to keep the momentum up. We need the continued voice of municipalities, businesses, organizations, and residents. Everyone should have a level playing field when it comes to accessing businesses, government services, schooling, social interaction.
As the voice of business in Peterborough and the Kawarthas for 138 years, advocacy is a core component of the role of the Chamber in our community.
We work with the local business community to identify barriers and opportunities. That grassroots input turns into various forms of advocacy initiatives.
Currently, we’re in the midst of the national-level advocacy program. As members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC), we have an opportunity to submit local issues of national significance as policy resolutions.
We have two resolutions proposed:
• Tax Rebates for Home Care – We’re looking to save taxpayers money while providing a higher level of care for people with long-term health needs. Currently, access to key equipment like hospital beds and patient lifts are a barrier people being eligible for home care support work. Additionally, a bit of help with paying for those services will go a long way in enabling people to receive care at home instead of an institution.
• Increasing Public Notice and Consultations for Federal Projects – The rules around providing public notice regarding road closures are vague when it comes to federal agencies. Peterborough experienced this with very little notice regarding the Parkhill Road bridge closure. We’re advocating that the federal government increase requirements for federal agencies to provide public notice to affected residents and businesses when closing a road for planned work.
These resolutions will be debated by CCC members in the fall. In the mean time they’re being vetted by members of various committees (of which our Chamber is a part of) to make sure it’s a significant enough business issue to need attention at the federal level. These committees help improve local advocacy efforts with other perspectives and expertise.
The provincial policy process is very similar to the national one. We are active members of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and submit resolutions on provincially significant issues. Earlier this year we had a resolution approved regarding tiny homes and secondary suites. We’re looking to have the Province work with municipalities to streamline the approval process for this type of niche housing, keeping cost, risk, and complexity to a minimum.
When it comes to local government, the policy process is entirely based around grassroots advocacy. We take input from local businesses directly to the government involved and work on solutions, whether it’s reducing the commercial and industrial tax ratio or making sure the perspective of local businesses is heard in the official plan, transportation master plan, and other municipal planning initiatives.
Regardless of the government body we’re advocating to, the majority of our work doesn’t result in policy resolutions or even formal letters to our leaders. Most of the advocacy work we do starts with an email, phone call, or a casual conversation at a networking event. Someone is facing a very specific barrier like a zoning issue or haven’t had a response from a government agency on a crucial application. Sometimes they just need to chat with someone to make sense of government regulations. Other times we partner with industry associations to amplify their voice.
It's not that we have all the answers or can solve every issue brought to our attention. Sometimes it can be sorted out quickly with some pressure, compromise, or better communication. Other times it’s a long-term process. We’ve been advocating for the return of passenger rail to Peterborough for more than a decade and we don’t plan on stopping until that first load of passengers arrives. We’ve hit some obstacles along the way, but right now passenger rail is closer to becoming a reality than any time since service ceased, with support from all major political parties and a government that now has parts of the project into the procurement phase.
Whether you’re facing a pressing issue, have new opportunities you need help exploring, or are looking for long-term results, we’ll continue to be your voice of business.