How to Lead Your Community into a Sustainable Future

If you live in rural Canada, you already know how special these communities can be. Big cities may boast more amenities, but they’ll never be able to offer the benefits of a small, tight-knit community. There’s the sense of pride that comes from staying rooted where your family has lived for generations. There’s beautiful land, fresh air, and room to dream. There’s the opportunity to work in agriculture and play a vital role in providing for your fellow Canadians. There’s, simply put, nothing like it!

But if we want rural Canada to continue thriving into the future, we have to ensure it continues to attract and keep the next generation. Unfortunately, Census data already shows that young adults aged 15 to 29 make up a lower proportion of the population in rural Canada than in other parts of the country. If young people have to leave their hometowns behind to build the life they want, the future of rural Canada is at risk. In this blog, we’ll consider three markers of a sustainable rural future and how leaders can use community broadband networks to power that future.

Three Markers of a Sustainable Rural Canadian Community

If leaders of rural municipalities want to ensure a sustainable future, they’ll need to ensure three things are available for their community: education, healthcare, and employment.

Education – Students in rural schools must have access to the same resources, information, and opportunities as students in urban areas. They must be able to develop the digital skills they’ll need to thrive in the workforce. And they must have the ability to do it all from home—especially as COVID-19 forces schools to close and drives instruction online.
Healthcare – Rural community residents need access to basic health care and specialist care to feel safe. No one wants to travel multiple hours each way to get the care they need for themselves or their loved ones. Plus, with COVID-19 still a real threat, telehealth technologies make it easier for Canadians to stay home and safely get the care they need.
Employment – In order to ensure plenty of employment opportunities for residents, rural communities must be able to (1) attract and sustain local businesses, (2) enable remote work for global companies, and (3) power modern-day agricultural practices.

Without adequate access to education, healthcare, and employment, young people who can leave rural communities will leave to provide for themselves and their families. Fortunately, there is one thing leaders of small municipalities can do to improve access to all three of these markers of a sustainable future: advocate for a rural broadband initiative.

Powering a Sustainable Future with Rural Broadband

When a community has gaps in education, healthcare, or employment, a reliable broadband network is critical for filling in those gaps.

As rural broadband advocate Ed Ingle points out, keeping rural schools staffed with qualified teachers is a challenge. But broadband can help. “Broadband can make distance-learning possible for students and adults in both the classroom and at home by providing access to top teachers and subject matter experts, while opening the door to a world of information, and the ability to learn and do assignments similar to their urban counterparts,” writes Ingle.

Learning isn’t the only thing that can take place long-distance with the right technology. Modern telehealth technologies enable patients to be seen by doctors and specialists hundreds of miles away, all without leaving their hometowns. Even if a rural community can’t bring cutting-edge healthcare facilities or professionals to their residents, they can bring access to both with telehealth technologies.

Of course, those technologies only work if there’s a strong enough broadband connection to power it. No doctor is going to risk making a diagnosis over a video call if a faulty connection makes it difficult to see the patient and communicate adequately. But with a strong, reliable broadband network, patients can get the care they need without travelling hundreds of miles to make it happen.

Broadband doesn’t just benefit individual students or patients. It benefits the entire economy of rural communities with the employment opportunities it can provide. One rural American community provides an encouraging example of what’s possible in our own Canadian provinces. According to The New Yorker, unemployment rates in Jackson County, Kentucky, were at 16% in 2009. Nearly every business in town was struggling to survive.

Then, the local telephone company stepped in and set out to build a high-speed fibre network for the town, using rural broadband grants and creative problem-solving. Before long, community members were learning new job skills and getting remote work opportunities that weren’t possible before. By 2019, unemployment rates had dropped below 5%.

Shane Gabbard, the county executive, reports that more people move into the county now than away from it. “Land is cheap here, taxes are low, and we have more jobs than we can fill,” he told The New Yorker. What works for rural America can work for rural Canada, too.

Generating Rural Broadband Solutions for Canada

Even if your rural community has some internet connection available, you’ve probably seen firsthand that not all internet access is equal. According to CCTS, internet-related complaints are on the rise as Canadians struggle to get advertised speeds. In order to power a sustainable rural future, communities need a reliable, high-speed, future-proof internet network that meets or exceeds CRTC broadband guidelines.

Of course, saying you want a broadband network for your community is one thing. Knowing how to get rural broadband funding and actually build a rural broadband network is another. Rural broadband infrastructure is expensive, and few of the big telecommunications companies show an interest in investing in smaller communities. There’s also the challenge of working with the particular geography of an area. Having people spread out with mountains, trees, or water in between can complicate your plans.

That’s why there’s no one-size-fits-all rural broadband solution for Canada. And that’s why we work one-on-one with the leaders of rural Canadian communities to fund, plan, design, and build high-quality, revenue-generating rural broadband networks in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Identify your rural strengths and opportunities for a rural broadband initiative.
  • Phase 2: Create a custom roadmap and business model for revenue-generating broadband internet.
  • Phase 3: Build a high-quality broadband network with high-speed internet access for all.

By the end of the process, we help ensure rural communities have the broadband networks they need to survive and thrive in the future. Better yet, we help ensure the profits from that network stay in the community itself. With a revenue-generating, high-quality broadband network, rural Canada can continue to be an ideal place to work, live, play, and learn—a place the next generation is proud to call home.

If you’re the leader of a Canadian community in need of a rural broadband solution that provides access for all, we’re here to help and can guide you through every phase of the process.

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