WINNIPEG - As grand chief of an organization representing northern Manitoba First Nations, Sheila North Wilson has a lot of experience dealing with spotty Internet and cell phone service.
North Wilson carries two phones — one which she says works some of the time, and the other hardly at all. Some communities have dial-up Internet while others rely on a combination of phone and satellite reception. Still others have nothing.
It's why her group, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., welcomes the recent decision by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission to declare broadband Internet access a basic service across the country.
"Not to say that technology is the end-all and the be-all, because there are some people that don't want any part of it and are quite comfortable being away from technology in our communities," North Wilson said.
"But for day-to-day business and accessibility to the rest of the world, it's high time we received this connectivity in our communities."
The aim of Canada's telecommunications regulator is to ensure that within the next 10 to 15 years, service providers offer Internet to all households and businesses at speeds of at least 50 megabits per second for downloading data, and 10 megabits per second for uploads.
The regulator also says mobile wireless service should be made available to all households and businesses throughout Canada, as well as along all major Canadian roads.
It's big news for Canada's smallest towns, where slow Internet means more than just difficulty sharing cat videos.
Farming organizations have long called for improved Internet service.
A document prepared by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan earlier this year prior listed broadband Internet and cellphone coverage amongst its issues of concern.
Producers like Leeann Minogue, who farms with her husband east of Weyburn, Sask., said in the document that people living in cities and towns don't think twice about downloading large files or videos. But on farms, she said download speeds using towers and dishes are much slower than broadband Internet.
Minogue, who called for better service, noted things like phone and power all came to rural Saskatchewan after a fight.
The commission is giving telecom firms access to an escalating $750 million dollar industry-sponsored fund over the next five years to invest in broadband infrastructure if they guarantee a set price for service.
North Wilson said businesses in remote communities need better service.
"We have, for example many artisans or people that offer services that could be out there more if there was better connectivity," she said.
She said residents of remote communities also need reliable Internet because government services and information are moving online.
Her organization played a role in the CRTC hearings, noting their input was mentioned a number of times in the landmark decision.
Last year, North Wilson was dealing with the deaths of three people in a house fire on the Bunibonibee Cree Nation. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett phoned her to pass along a message of condolence to the community, but North Wilson said she didn't get it right away.
In some communities, she said it's likely she wouldn't have received the message at all.
"They want to be connected, like the rest of the world, to the rest of the world," North Wilson said.