A Little Bit Western


The Struggle is Real

Oct 4, 2016

I purposefully try not to use my channels of communication to complain, because the world already has enough negativity in it. I am also apprehensive to say anything bad about living in rural Saskatchewan. The opportunity to operate an agricultural business and raise our family on a farm in the southwest is something I’m thankful for every day.

But…I have to get something off my chest.

Rural internet sucks.

For thousands of people across the province, this is hardly a secret. Rural internet has been a challenge since the advent of the internet itself. To set the record straight, I’m not annoyed because I’m missing out on some apparent thing called “NetFlix.” Nor do I have to referee internet battles among our kids because they don’t use the internet yet. My frustration is borne out something simple: I just want to operate my business.

When I first left the bright lights of high speed and moved to our ranch after university, we didn’t have internet service at all. I would head to a library or “borrow” the internet at work during lunch or coffee breaks. It wasn’t handy but our fledgling business was young and the internet was still pretty fresh too. Eventually we signed up for a little air stick device that promised to bring high speed internet right to my ranch office….sort of. It was inconsistent, slow, and I often couldn’t get a signal in spite of having a cell tower directly out my front window. If the internet Gods were with me, I could manage to pay a few bills online, check emails, and research cattle, equipment, or market information. This temperamental little unit soon quit working. We upgraded to a similar device and that thing quit working (and not because I chucked it at the wall in frustration, I promise). I investigated satellite internet options to find that we only qualified for one brand which garnered poor reviews from neighbours so we decided not to invest in the infrastructure. Fast forward to the present day where I alternate between four (ahem, not cheap) data-capped cell phone “hot spots” to operate our business.

The Canadian beef industry is renowned for its cutting edge technologies, innovative marketing and decision tools, and a highly advanced traceability system. Without internet access, it is tough to operate a modern-day cattle ranch. On our farm I spend more time in cyberspace than I do in the saddle, although obtaining that elusive connection feels a bit like a lottery most days. I file government paperwork, register cattle records, obtain forms, and look everything up because apparently “all the information you’re phoning about, ma’am, can be found on our website!” I use social media and our website to promote our cattle, acquire new customers and maintain contact with existing ones. We purchase and sell cattle through online auctions. We edit and upload hours of video footage to promote our livestock and tell the story of our ranch. All of these legitimate business practices burn through precious, sweet gigabytes of rationed data faster than a fence-crawling cow can detect a broken wire.

I understand providing high speed internet to rural and remote locations is hard and expensive. I realize I made a conscious decision to live in a rural location and that we are just one of thousands of rural entrepreneurs struggling with sub-par internet. But I do know that Saskatchewan’s economy is built on sectors like agriculture, mining, and energy development, and these businesses don’t operate in places where you can enjoy free Wi-Fi and a vente latte. Our lack of consistent high speed internet is holding us back.

Our province is home to hard-working, smart, talented and resourceful people. City or country, Saskatchewan is the best place in Canada to operate a business. Now is it too much to ask that we all have fair access to the World Wide Web?

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