The challenge of getting modern telecommunications infrastructure to rural and remote regions is global. Many countries have programs to address this challenge. There is a World Rural Telecoms Congress and an association in the United States, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. In April, Canada’s federal government announced a $305-million funding program to bring 5 Mbps download speeds to more Canadian households in rural and remote Canada. This clear opportunity requires political mobilization and direction to develop new business models that will take advantage of the technical opportunities now possible. This mobilization should be directed toward enabling municipal governments, band councils and co-operative enterprises to build their own last mile broadband telecom infrastructure.
Telcos have upgraded their networks with fibre-optic cable and modern switching and routing gear that enables very high speeds, the kind of speeds that collapsed long-distance charges to $20 per month Canada-wide, sometimes including the United States, with no cap. The last bottleneck is the access component or last mile from the subscriber’s premises to the nearest central office or intermediate collection point.
In urban areas, the telcos have addressed this challenge with the use of Digital Subscriber Loop (DSL) technology and Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN), an intermediate collection point that concentrates the traffic onto fibre lines for the next leg into the telco’s central office. Most North American telcos have balked at the idea of installing fibre all the way to the subscribers’ premises, Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH), because of the cost and a perception that there are no applications for which residential subscribers require the additional capacity. However, many rural households are not residences that fit into the telcos’ business/residence classification. They are a combination of residence and economic enterprise.