A group at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development has recently brought discussions regarding high-speed internet in rural Ontario, or Regional and Rural Broadband (R2B2), to the urban centres of Guelph and Toronto.
In April, the R2B2 project team held a day-long symposium at the University of Guelph. There, they let stakeholders at the school check out the preliminary results of their project, which has involved researching regional and rural broadband development and deployment in Southwestern Ontario.
Their findings include that barriers to digital inclusion in rural Southwestern Ontario are not only due to connectivity problems associated with distance from urban areas or physical isolation, but also because uptake of existing and prospective technologies is influenced by diverse economic and social needs.
During the April symposium, the R2B2 team also presented emerging initiatives, such as the South-Western Integrated Fibre Telecommunications (SWIFT) network (which, according to their website SwiftNetwork.ca, aims to have 100 percent coverage in Southwestern Ontario with high speed fibre-optic broadband by 2040), and provided recommendations to other researchers into regional and rural broadband in Southwestern Ontario.
The symposium concluded that regional and rural broadband in Southwestern Ontario brings social, environmental and economic benefits to the wider province and the nation, as well as internationally. The future is clear, they said – investments in regional and rural broadband are essential to making Ontario a global leader not just in agriculture and agri-food, but to realizing a wide range of economic and social opportunities through digital technologies and connected communities.
More recently, the R2B2 group (which includes professors at Ryerson Universty and the University of Windsor on its advisory team), attended the annual diThink ORION Conference at the University of Toronto on May 26. At the conference, ORION (Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network), in conjunction with Compute Ontario, brought together researchers, educators, policy makers and students from across the province. Those present from both the University of Guelph and Lakehead University stressed the importance of digital inclusion for the betterment of rural and remote communities.
But, according to a post on the R2B2 project website, the problem with discussions at the conference was that “underlying many discussions in diThink is the sense that the technology is the same in all communities. This is not the case, and so we need to recognize the ‘double jeopardy’ of digital exclusion existing within and across diverse regions of Ontario, including the challenges faced by rural and remote areas.”
According to the post, the R2B2 team looks forward “to emphasizing the importance of taking rural and remote issues into consideration as ORION continues its leadership on digital research and innovation and creative public engagement events, such as advanced computing workshops, regional roadshows, hackathons, and webinars.”