Small towns in Northern Ontario hardest hit by digitaldivide

Small towns in Northern Ontario hardest hit by digitaldivide

Blue Sky Net study shows that 187 of Northern Ontario’s 285 communities have fewer than 1,000 residents, and only 41 of these communities have at least half of their households capable of 50/10 Mbps internet access

According to a recent Blue Sky Net study examining the state of Northern Ontario regarding high-speed Internet access, the federal and provincial governments understand the importance of high-quality Internet access.

Indeed, as Blue Sky Net notes in its report on Northern Ontario broadband, both governments have set a target for 50/10 Mbps internet access, with Canada aiming for every household to reach that benchmark by 2030 and Ontario striving to reach that threshold even earlier, by 2025.

Although 2021 federal data shows that 91% of Canadian households had access to high-speed fixed Internet, a recent report by Auditor General Karen Hogan found that there was a significant digital divide between rural and remote communities and larger urban centers. The AG report found that rural and remote communities currently had 59.5% access to high-speed internet.

Where does Northern Ontario fit into this picture?

Using the latest available federal government data, Blue Sky Net found that of 285 communities in Northern Ontario, only 74 had at least 50% of their households capable of accessing 50/10 Mbps high-speed fixed Internet. these 74 communities, only 47 had at least 75% of households accessing the Internet at 50/10 Mbps.

The study also found that smaller communities in Northern Ontario have felt the most impact of this digital divide. According to census data from Statistics Canada, of the 285 communities in Northern Ontario, 187 had populations of less than 1,000, and only 41 of these communities had at least 50 percent of their households capable of 50/10 Mbps Internet access.

Northern Ontario speed test results

Blue Sky Net has partnered with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) to conduct speed tests across Northern Ontario to better understand the broadband landscape.

There were 31,895 speed tests recorded between 2020 and 2022, and during that time, the median speed test result was found to improve from 4.88 Mbps (download speed) to 20.21 Mbps in 2022. Although these speed tests can be performed by cell phone and satellite Internet users, this shows a somewhat positive trend towards the improvement of broadband in Northern Ontario.

Challenges in the development of broadband networks

Northern Ontario is a vibrant and diverse region with spectacular natural terrain resting on the Canadian Shield. However, according to Blue Sky Net, those natural features that make Northern Ontario unique and beautiful also present challenges in developing broadband networks. The hard bedrock, the hilly regions,
lakes and long distances between communities present financial barriers to private network expansion where potential return on investment is limited. Additionally, a one-fits-all approach to Internet technologies may not work due to Northern Ontario’s diverse topography.

Optimism for the future

The Northern Ontario Broadband Report demonstrates a gradual improvement in broadband access throughout Northern Ontario. There are currently 73 recently completed, announced or ongoing broadband projects across the region. Blue Sky Net expects this improvement to continue as both the
Federal and provincial governments continue to invest in broadband projects that help facilitate network expansion in areas where Internet service providers have a tough business case.

Blue Sky Net (Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation) is a non-profit organization based in the North Bay and operating since 2002. Its mission is to promote the development and adoption of digital technologies.

To read the full Northern Ontario broadband report, click here.


Northern Ontario broadband mapping, research and learning resources are available at www.connectednorth.ca.

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