Rural connectivity is about being able to function, not watch Netflix

For those of us that work from home regularly, good broadband connectivity is essential. But in rural areas of Canada, effective broadband — capable of handling video calls, online classes, and more — is largely unavailable or exceeding expensive.

During this global pandemic, thousands of farm and rural residents are sharing the reality of trying to connect and continue work and school and life from home, and it’s not pretty.

Cherilyn Nagel, a farmer from Mossbank, Sask., says that COVID-19 brought the sad state of broadband in rural Canada to light, adding that farmers around the world face this same issue currently, which is frustrating, to say the least.

“In general, a farmers’ ability to connect with the globe is necessary, and it’s getting worse instead of better,” Nagel says. “Just yesterday, farmers were deemed an essential service. So with that comes some pride for sure. We know we have a responsibility to the public to grow food, but we just don’t have the same technologies that our urban cousins may have.”

Nagel adds that as she has this conversation often, many are just asking what us rural folk are trying to watch on Netflix, but it’s so much more than that.

“I was talking to a farming colleague in Humbolt, Sask., that was having troubles downloading John Deere software. It takes six hours to download it, and then by the time that’s downloaded, the Internet for the rest of his family is completely gone. And this has to happen every day.”

With the difficulties of downloading software, using precision agriculture, and anything else that requires even a half-decent connection, the question remains — how on earth do we fix this? Yes, we need some government attention, but as Nagel notes, it’s going to take infrastructure investment as well.

“There’s a lot of talk of fibre optics, and whether or not we are going to be able to invest in that. I think rural communities are getting better service, but the challenge for farmers is that we don’t even live in rural communities. So the rural communities are getting services, but we live too far from those rural communities to even be able to access that investment. So we get further and further behind.”

If we want to be better stewards of the land and be better farmers, that becomes pretty tricky without the ability to implement any of these new technologies. At the end of the day, it all comes down to rural connectivity.

“It’s kind of like being a kid and flipping through the wish book at Christmas, and knowing you aren’t going to get any of this stuff. None of this is going to be available to me. You can mark the pages all you want, but you’re not going to get it. The technology isn’t going to be available to us without rural broadband. It’s kind of a dream game,” says Nagel.

Check out the full conversation between Cherilyn Nagel and RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney, below:

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