This past weekend Canadian federal parties worked out an agreement for in-person and virtual meetings of the House of Commons.
One issue brought up by the Conservatives was that virtual sittings could be unfair to rural Members of Parliament who don’t have broadband internet access. It’s a fair point and raises an issue the government should address.
While the government has been supportive of rural broadband initiatives, now is the time to step up and do more. The coronavirus COVID-19 has changed the global equation in so many areas that we still don’t know the long term effects it will have.
The pandemic has shown us how important communication is. We now have daily federal and provincial news conferences and government departments updating websites with relevant information for the public. Other organizations and businesses are using the Internet more than ever to provide information and sell goods like groceries. But access to these updates and services doesn’t reach everyone.
Internet Service Providers have been trying to help their customers by increasing data limits. SpaceQ recorded a podcast with someone last week who lives in a rural area. Because other family members need access to the Internet, they prioritize access based on need so as to not impair the limited connection they have. The person we did the podcast with had to drive 15 minutes to a nearby town for good mobile coverage to record the podcast.
LEO satellite broadband
The government has made investments in improving rural and remote broadband internet including funding to Telesat who want to build a satellite constellation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The LEO satellite broadband service would be used by consumers and government customers. The constellation appears to be moving forward, albeit slowly, and still needs final approval by their board. With the current economic outlook, Telesat could further delay or even shelve the development of the constellation.
The government provided Telesat with $85 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund last year. They also signed a memorandum of understanding whereby the government would become a customer, pledging $600 million over 10 years should the two sides come to an agreement.
It’s time for the government to do more. The Strategic Innovation Fund provides funding for innovative technologies the government sees as having strong potential to be beneficial to Canadians. The program in essence picks winners. It’s a government program that says, we’re making an investment in this company because it’s likely to succeed.
Having already made the calculation that Telesat’s LEO Satellite Constellation was worth the initial investment, the government should now step up again in some way to get this project fast-tracked. It’s an investment that will benefit Canadians.