A recent item from the CBC caught my eye “Arctic internet cable project moves closer to approval.”
A fibre optic company is one step closer to installing 15,000-kilometre cable across the arctic that has the potential to bring ultrahigh-speed Internet to the region.
Arctic Fibre just finished consulting with seven Nunavut communities where the cable will be closest to once installed. The cable will be embedded in the arctic ocean floor and connect Europe with Asia.
I bet a number of people reading that news have these reactions. 1) The Arctic? Really? Is that necessary? And, 2) How come the furthest ends of the earth may get broadband before my area does?
First, an aside: many so-called needs are only wants. And many wants are actually bad for us – or bad for the planet. Having admitted those relative truths, resource equity does loom as a huge issue. Educational resources and economic development matter a great deal. (They may matter more to people who have fewer such opportunities in the first place.)
So Arctic broadband access sounds like potentially good news. As long as the construction isn’t very destructive, a project of that scope could be an important upgrade for northern residents, in terms of quality of life, economic opportunity and productivity.
Some might say that rural life is its own reward and it need not include all the bells and whistles of modernity. While I don’t disagree with that philosophy, the internet does represent a kind of miracle – location independence for living and working. Something that wastes fewer natural resources for commuting and so forth. It can be part of the solution to cleaner, greener living.
I’ve seen this from both sides of the city/country divide. After years in Honolulu with good internet resources, we moved to urban Ottawa in the late 90s, where it was also easy to get high-speed broadband. After a year there, we moved to a small rural village. At the time, Kars had cable TV. So I just assumed broadband would be available as well. It wasn’t until after we’d bought and moved in that I discovered that was not the case. Nada, zip, none. Only dial up. As my husband was a high tech worker, this came as an unwelcome surprise.
I remember listening to the throne speech our first year in Kars. (That’s a laundry list litany of why-we-are-great and what-we’ll-do-next from the ruling government.) The speech had some snappy line about Canada being one of the most well-connected countries on earth, and how important it was to bring the internet to all Canadians. It was a grandiose boast, considering that no-internet Kars lay about 35 minutes from where that speech was delivered on Parliament Hill.
A few years later our area could boot-strap itself to the web by way of a small private company that offered radio-link internet – if you could establish line-of-sight from their tower to a dish on your property. (Not every property can manage this, depending on location and circumstances.) Towers and dishes sprang up right and left, including at our house. It worked pretty well as long as we kept the western tree belt trimmed. That’s when I could begin reporting for NCPR – something that would have been impossible without a high-speed connection.
All sorts of companies are working on this infrastructure challenge. Today there are probably three or four ways to get internet where we now live, in North Gower. Meanwhile, other areas still remain un-served or under-served.
It makes me want to revisit the history of telephone distribution and rural electrification, because of the similarities those examples must provide in terms of physical and policy challenges. Remember when phone companies had monopolies and long distance calls were expensive as a way to offset the extra costs of stringing lines out to sparsely populated regions? I’m not sure that model would fly today, but it was one way to serve more of the public.
Do you consider internet/broadband access something on par with a need? If so, and if that’s not being well met, who bears that responsibility? The individual? The private sector? Government? Private/public partnerships?
I know this discussion has been around for a long time, but how much progress have you seen? What, if anything, do you think still needs to be done?
The CBC article says the planned Arctic project could begin “ultrahigh-speed”service by 2016. What will your area have by then?