Building Highway 2019

We all know that our economic system for the last 100 years has relied on safe highways to transport goods and bring services to our diverse and widespread population in the North. We all know how important highways are.

Internet connections into our homes are like real-life residential streets that connect to faster arteries, and ultimately to the internet equivalent of a super highway. We need these tech highways in almost every aspect of our lives, from public safety and modern education to the capabilities which enable businesses to innovate and grow.

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But even now, there are residents inside city limits without access to high-speed internet, and outside Prince George, the connections can be worse. In Northern B.C., there are large rural areas with no Internet, and no prospect for it. We're not alone, either; there are two million Canadians without reliable internet connections today. Our problem is a national problem and it's past time it got fixed. We need our technology highways as much as we need our physical highways.

In particular, the leaders of P.G.'s tech community have identified the lack of redundant high speed as a serious gap for at least a decade. In physical terms, think of our city as a superhighway cul-de-sac. With only one route in, no large company would locate their data here, because up to now, that single route was too risky for industry standards. One line is simply too easily severed by errant events ranging from a tragic wildfire to a misguided tractor.

That could soon be fixed. On March 13, we mark the one-year anniversary of the federal/provincial announcement that Shaw had been selected to build a fibre optic line between Prince George and Dawson Creek, thereby turning our cul-de-sac into the superhighway we need. After years of advocacy, it's getting built and we'll get redundant high speed.

That one project is a game-changer for Prince George. Our employers will finally have the capacity so today's businesses can compete on a level playing field with businesses in the big cities around the world. Just knowing it is coming has also opened new doors for our economic development department to legitimately compete to attract data centres. This opportunity, which hinges on the Dawson Creek line, has become one of four key areas we are actively pursuing.

Looking at the bigger picture, broadband for all of rural B.C. is very much a Prince George issue. When we think about traditional highways and our traditional economy, we all know the adage that Prince George thrives when the communities around it thrive, and vice-versa. This applies just as strongly to Internet superhighways. It is essential that broadband internet access gets rolled out throughout Northern B.C.

Yesterday, Jinny Sims, the Minister of Citizen's Services, was in our city to talk about the successes of the B.C. government's investment of $50 million toward enhanced connectivity. Some past successes specifically dealt with funding the "Last Mile" of connectivity. Renewing and increasing funding for local programs like this helps to encourage our federal partners to come to the table too.

On Monday, the city's resolutions committee will introduce Mayor Lyn Hall's resolution on broadband, and ultimately invite all B.C. communities to support it. It echoes the call by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for a robust national strategy for broadband. That national strategy needs to have firm dates, a commitment to speed targets and an investment of at least $400 million per year for 10 years.

Making Internet access better is about making our city better, making our region better and making Canada better. Last century, when roads and highways were pushed through, Northern B.C. communities were opened up to transporting the goods and services that fueled our economy. This century and next, we are collaborating and competing with the world and we are going to succeed. Because working together, we are going to get those new tech superhighways built.

-- Garth Frizzell is a councillor for the City of Prince George and second vice president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

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