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Mayor Peter Muttart: Rural municipalities need support closing the digital divide

Mayor Peter Muttart describes Kings County, Nova Scotia as the “Napa Valley of the East” with wineries appearing “every 15 minutes.”

This enviable position, along with the area’s traditional agricultural base, support the mayor’s assertion that his municipality is enjoying a period of prosperity. Well, he quickly adds, “as much as municipalities can.”

That caveat, and what can be done to help deal with it, was discussed when Muttart sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner at the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Quebec City.

Rural Municipalities Need Senior Government Support

“Senior levels of government must enable municipal governments to find alternative sources of revenue,” he said. “We need to be able to be in the energy production business – wind power, solar power. We need to be able to roll out broadband services across rural municipalities. Senior levels of government need to step up and not say this is a difficult thing to do. It’s not. It’s an easy thing to do; all you need to do is enable it.”

The ability to generate this potential financial windfall, Muttart said, is key to ensuring residents of rural municipalities truly have universal access to high-speed internet connectivity.

As he puts it in the video, it’s easy for an internet service provider (ISP) who is serving an urban population to ensure equal digital access. However, it is more challenging for them “to run a kilometre of wire to catch three users.”

Muttart said there are financial incentives available to municipalities for the greening of local economies – such as the green municipal fund through FCM. And, those monies can be combined with available federal funds. Even so, Muttart said need those alternative sources of revenue in order to close the digital divide that is affecting so many smaller municipalities.

Closing the Digital Divide is Key to the Future

“Broadband is what electricity was 100 years ago; it’s essential,” he said. “Homebased businesses need to be able to communicate online with the speeds and redundancy that is required to be steady.”

A significant issue in closing the digital divide, Muttart said, is when organizations such as the CRTC declare an area has good service simply because a community may be located within a “quadrant” that happens to have at least one ISP. Muttart said despite this type of situation, “municipalities on the ground” are the ones that know there are gaps in connectivity.

This, he adds, is why municipalities need to have access to non-traditional revenue sources.

“There are some very small municipalities, not well funded, and you have to enable them to get into partnerships with surrounding municipalities in order to form a cohesive group that can go forward on behalf of all those citizens and create that alternate source of revenue,” he said. “So, let us in. That’s what I’m saying.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Rural hotspots: How public libraries are bridging the digital divide. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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