The pandemic has exposed Canada’s internet problem

As the crisis drags on, many of us live with web connections too weak for work and study at home

By Claire Brownell April 8, 2021

Owner of The Workshop Dance Studio, Nancy Morgan, gives a tap dance class via video in Kemptville Ontario, February 27 2021 (Photograph by Kaja Tirrul)

[Excerpt] When Ontario was thrown into its first lockdown in March 2020, the Workshop Dance Studio owner Nancy Morgan moved her classes online. But with a clientele mostly made up of seniors living in the rural area near the eastern Ontario town of Kemptville, the transition was not a smooth one.

Overnight, Morgan became a technical support worker in addition to being a tap dance instructor and business owner. She estimates that she and her son, who she’s enlisted to help, spend five to six hours a week giving her clients one-on-one help setting up accounts, finding the classes and troubleshooting. But no matter how much time and attention she provides, she can’t solve the biggest problem they face: internet service too weak to carry a live online dance class.

“There’s nothing worse than watching lag and things spinning, spinning, spinning,” Morgan says. “There are lots of my clients who have just put it on the shelf. They don’t even want to try, because it was such a nightmare for them.”

Rural Canadians have always struggled with poor-quality internet, but the pandemic turned the problem into an emergency for those trying to keep businesses afloat and educate children from home. Internet performance data collected by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), and provided exclusively to Maclean’s for the post-pandemic edition of our Best Communities ranking, reveals that in each of Canada’s 417 municipalities with more than 9,000 people—including the biggest cities, like Toronto—many people live with web connections that aren’t sufficient to work or study from home.

Assuming remote work is here to stay, Maclean’s ranked communities across the country with an eye to what makes for a great place to live for people who don’t have to worry about finding a job within commuting distance. Since it’s impossible to work remotely without high-quality internet, we asked CIRA to provide data on each of those communities. The association gathered the information as part of its Internet Performance Test Program, which invites Canadians across the country to test their internet speeds.

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Unsurprisingly, all the communities that fell below the highest rating were outside major cities, where internet infrastructure and services are most concentrated. The Maclean’s ranking looked only at relatively densely populated areas—internet quality in smaller, more remote communities is even worse.

To read more, click on: The pandemic has exposed Canada’s internet problem