Faster rural Internet headlines faster Canadian election

by Steve Blum • ,

Speed matters in Canada.

Better broadband infrastructure and service seems to be the shortest route to rural voters hearts, at least in Canada. Instead of hyping more generous farm subsidies or big, new water projects, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is making faster Internet access for rural areas a top promise, as he campaigns for a fourth term

At a campaign event in the eastern Ontario community of Lancaster, south of Ottawa, Mr. Harper says there is no infrastructure investment more critical to Canada’s economic fortunes than Internet access.

His plan calls for spending an extra C$200 million (about US$150 million) to build out faster broadband service to 350,000 more homes by 2017. That’s about 3% of the Canadian population – proportionately, the U.S. equivalent would be something like 3 million households.

The U.S. federal government is no stranger to such promises. The stimulus program of 2009 aimed to upgrade broadband infrastructure for 7 million homes, but gradually lowered the goal to a tenth of that level – about 700 hundred thousand – before giving up on quantitative targets altogether. At last count, the program had only managed to light up a couple hundred thousand households, and it’s not entirely certain those are all rural.

Harper is hedging his bets, also pledging better roads and bridges, and more doctors and nurses for rural areas, familiar campaign themes on both sides of the border. There is one difference, though, that should be the envy of burnt out U.S. voters: the length of the Canadian election cycle. It began about two and a half months ago, and runs through mid-October. Of this year.