The Economic Necessity of High Speed Internet Access

The Economic Necessity of High Speed Internet Access

Kellsey Evers

Staff Writer

Libraries are incredible resources. Their utility spans generations—whether you’re a child doing your first book report or a college student working on your thesis, your community library probably has something to offer. Today, however, libraries are key resources for a new demographic: job seekers. While libraries naturally attract a diverse population, public libraries in particular are witnessing a high influx of people on the job hunt. The reason? Free internet access.

Applying for a job can be a grueling process for anyone, but for people who don’t have access to a personal computer, let alone an internet connection, a trip to the library is the only way to create and send out a resume. While some companies do still keep physical, paper job applications on-hand, they’re far more likely to tell someone inquiring about a job to apply online.

It doesn’t matter if it’s McDonald’s or WalMart, companies are pushing to keep everything online. The world is online, so naturally, the process for obtaining a job is as well. Yet for many people, especially low-income citizens, something as seemingly easy as accessing the internet can become a more formidable hurdle when it can’t be done at home. It also happens to make the job search an even more arduous task.

But it’s not just the economically disadvantaged that have little to no internet access; it’s citizens and businesses in remote and rural areas, too. Without access to the internet, a business misses out on opportunities to reach new customers and new employees, and generally closes itself off from a significant market segment.

In today’s highly-connected world, the internet is what allows us to directly connect with others across town, across the country, and across the world. It permeates our personal lives and the business environment. For individuals, communities, and businesses, high speed internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

No one recognizes this more than the Allan O’Dette, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, Ontario. “There’s an overwhelming response that high speed [internet] is not a luxury; it’s a basic infrastructure piece, necessary for economic growth,” O’Dette said in a phone interview.

With a diverse network of roughly 60,000 members, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce works to support economic growth throughout Ontario, Canada’s largest province. The chamber represents local chambers of commerce and boards of trade in over 135 communities across Ontario. Covering such a wide area, the chamber counts businesses of all sizes among its members, with the vast majority being small- to medium-sized enterprises.

Recently, the chamber began focusing on the issue of high-speed broadband internet access, calling on the province to dedicate billions of dollars toward improving access to the web. “[The initiative] is driven out of feedback from our members,” said O’Dette. “If our economy is going to be driven by technology [and] you don’t have access to high-speed internet, it’s … almost impossible to build a competitive business.”

While many cities and larger businesses already have access to high-speed internet, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is interested in finding a way to reach more remote and less densely-populated areas by “strengthening broadband [access] right across [the] province, including into the north of Ontario.”

According to O’Dette, the issue concerns more than just access to a service; it’s become an issue of basic infrastructure. “I think it’s a 21st century issue,” he said. Just as businesses and communities rely on roads, bridges, electricity, and telephone services to function properly, high-speed internet has become fundamental to Ontario’s economic interests. O’Dette stressed, “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have access to these tools, you can do business literally from any corner of the globe.”

Some smaller towns and cities have already started to feel the effects of inadequate internet access, specifically in their inability to retain younger talent. “We need our next generation to create businesses … to live, work, and stay in the communities in which they came from,” explained O’Dette. “We’ve seen a trend here and in other areas of North America where next-generation people might grow up in Community A, but go off to another community or another larger, urban center to go to school, and they don’t come back.”

The younger generations are the key to continuing the life and economic development of a community. Yet, without something as essential as internet access, a community is doomed to see that younger demographic decrease, as they choose to venture out and pursue other opportunities in more highly-populated areas.

Even private companies, the most common providers of high-speed internet, favor more populated locations. The private sector tends to leave less populated areas underserved, as there is less of a business case to be made for “setting up shop” there. O’Dette and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce are calling for the government to fill in the gaps left by privately owned internet providers. “We think it’s important that the government create a formal strategy which can prioritize their infrastructure investments in communities where internet speeds are less than, say, five [megabits] per second,” said O’Dette.

Five megabits per second (or Mbps) is the standard broadband speed established by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. O’Dette believes that “there is an opportunity here for government, in the collective best interest of society and community, to fill this void.” Getting high-speed internet to underserved areas could mean a world of difference in terms of business growth and job creation, and if the government took an interest in this issue, it would also show a commitment to shifting public services to the online world.

The community response to the chamber’s call to action has been positive. “It’s very powerful,” O’Dette explained. “The community is very much behind this, and in fact, that’s why we’re driving it.” With community chambers and leaders across Ontario calling for a solution to the lack of high speed internet access, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce continues to live up to its role as the voice of Ontario business by requesting that the government develop a strategy to address the issue.

Lack of high-speed internet access is an issue that exists in many communities, not just Ontario. If more chambers of commerce were to raise the issue with local government officials and community members, it could lead to increased economic development and prosperity for all communities. As online platforms become essential to how people live and conduct business, high-speed internet access must become a forefront issue for everyone.