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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Prime Minister Trudeau Holds Rural Broadband Discussion in Owen Sound

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Local business owners, Chamber of Commerce share concerns of rural broadband issues.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Owen Sound for a discussion on rural broadband.

Trudeau was at Mudtown Station early Wednesday afternoon for roundtable talks with a group of local business owners and the CEO of the Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce on the issue.

The prime minster made brief public comments beforehand and affirmed the Liberals' commitment made in March to invest more than $5-billion over the next decade to ensure 100 per cent internet connectivity nationwide by 2030.

"We know there is lots of work to do but our choice is to invest in your communities and invest in the future," Trudeau said.

Aiyana Harris was one of the small business owners at the roundtable discussion. She had to re-locate her business Eternal Bee from the Holland Centre area to Owen Sound because of internet speed and connectivity issues.

Harris said she was paying a much higher price for internet service when she lived in a rural location and the quality was much poorer.

She said the slow speeds caused issues for the e-commerce platform of her business and at times she was even unable to download and receive files.

"Those are the biggest things when people move out of rural areas," Harris said. "It's because of internet quality and not being able to run your business properly."

Peter Reesor, the CEO of the Owen and District Chamber of Commerce, called high-speed internet connectivity a "very big issue" for Grey and Bruce counties.

He said the prime minister was highly sensitive and appreciative of what rural Ontario and rural Canada is facing.

"There is not one provider to the solution to this," Reesor explained. "It is a federal, a provincial, a county and a municipality challenge. And what I'd like to see is a lot more cooperation amongst all levels of government for the common end of getting decent internet into rural Ontario and around our area as well."

Reesor said the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative was also discussed. According to its website, SWIFT is a non-profit project to subsidize the construction of an open-access, high-speed broadband network in Southwestern Ontario, Caledon and the Niagara Region.

The Owen Sound Chamber CEO said there is a bottleneck in funding from the provincial government to allocate money into the buildout of SWIFT through rural Ontario.

"The SWIFT initiative started eight years ago and they still don't have a shovel in the ground," Reesor said.

In a statement, Reesor said a local solution for Grey Bruce is needed involving municipalities and local enterpreneurial internet service providers to deliver high quality broadband access.

Aside from the roundtable discussion on rural broadband issues, a small handful of protesters were among the dozens of people gathered outside Mudtown Station trying to catch a glimpse of the prime minister while he was at the Owen Sound restaurant. One person held a sign that read "We Are Our Sisters Voices #MMIW", while another man used a megaphone to yell obscenities at Trudeau as he departed.

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