Digital Infrastructure Attracts Digital Nomads to Your Community
The digital divide between rural and urban communities seems to only get larger as cities are increasingly building more sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. Extending digital infrastructure to rural communities is difficult and costly, even though the CRTC ruled in 2016 that internet access is a basic necessary telecommunications service, and mandated that telecom companies must provide access to everyone in Canada.
Why You Need to Invest in Digital Infrastructure
As an EDO, you’re well aware that digital infrastructure is essential in the current economy. Without reliable and reasonably fast internet access, it's nearly impossible to apply for jobs, do homework, or run a business. The internet has shifted the way we work, learn, and play. Many jobs can now be done remotely with access to reliable internet. And more and more people are choosing to ditch the office and the commute and work from home as freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Digital Infrastructure Attracts Digital Nomads
The Gig Economy, as it is popularly referred to, creates new challenges for economic development, but also immense opportunity for rural communities. Digital Nomads, entrepreneurs and freelancers who can work from anywhere with internet, are less and less interested in paying the high cost of living in big cities. They don’t need to be in a city anymore, so why stay? They’re looking to lower their cost of living, have a slower pace of life, and be part of a welcoming community.
Rural communities that invest in broadband infrastructure are in a unique position to attract digital nomads. Having a host of digital nomads is a big boon to an area. While their clients and work may not be in your community, they’re still spending their dollars and paying taxes locally. If they have a diverse client base around the world, they’ll also be more resilient through economic fluctuations.
Digital Infrastructure Investment Examples
Hastings County, halfway between Toronto and Ottawa, is an excellent example of a region that has invested in digital infrastructure and turned their rural communities into attractive destinations for a wide range of businesses. Their I Left The City campaign highlights the opportunities they’ve been able to extend to business owners, and the benefits and success that digital nomads have found in the communities of Hastings County.
How to Bridge the Digital Divide
In order to bridge the digital divide and provide better broadband for your community, the first step you can take is mapping your existing digital infrastructure. Understanding where there are gaps in service and what sorts of connection speeds people are getting helps to establish targets for improvement. The CRTC set minimum service level requirements at “download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps, and to also offer the option of unlimited data.”
The CRTC has set up a fund to help suppliers expand their service networks to more rural locations, and municipalities can further support network expansion.
The 2019 Federal Budget tabled an increase of $1.7 billion to improve connectivity across Canada. The government also made a bold commitment to connect every single Canadian to high speed internet, even Canadians who live outside of cities, towns, and villages.
Rural municipalities can invest in digital infrastructure in a few different ways. Once you have identified gaps in services, it's time to identify and connect with existing service providers. If there are none, a community can connect with service providers who have networks nearby, or who are hoping to expand in the area. Alternatively, municipalities can also develop and run their own telecom company to get the infrastructure they need.
Building a telecom company is, of course, complex and expensive, and is likely the most difficult option. Partnering with existing providers allows you to combine areas of expertise for better service delivery. As an EDO, you can find incentives for service providers to expand their network, help them get grant funding to pay for improvements, and make sure information about available services gets out to residents.
The most important thing is to stay in touch with local providers in your area. Making it easier for them to do business, and fostering competition from multiple providers, will drive improvement and innovation for broadband services in your community.