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In a recent blog-post on LinkedIn, Intelligent Community Forum co-founder Robert Bell asked if this we’re entering the Golden Age for small, smart places.

In the words of economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, “average is over.”  The question for mayors, city managers, members of council and concerned citizens is this: on which side of “not average” is your community going to be? You can get a good idea by looking around you.  Is your community a place where new businesses and new industries get a strong start, with the help of partners like universities and community colleges? Do your citizens have the skills needed to power prosperity?  Does your government partner creatively with business and institutions to help them grow?  Are you looking after the people who have been left out of the digital economy?

Citing places like Duluth, Minnesota and Redlands, California, Bell states that “broadband has become the great economic leveler of our time” as it enables small communities to become hotbeds of economic development and business formation – when they have invested in modern digital infrastructure.

That’s why projects like SWIFT are so important: if we want our communities to be able to compete on a global scale, we simply must have modern, fibre-optic infrastructure. As indicated in a blog post in November 2015, it’s not even a case of “getting ahead” anymore, instead, for much of Western Ontario and, indeed, much of Canada, it’s about making sure we don’t fall further behind.

The good news is that the newly tabled federal budget specifically identified improving rural access to broadband as a national priority:

Improving Access for Rural Communities to the Digital Economy

Few jobs, sectors or aspects of life are untouched by information and communications technology. Access to better, more reliable broadband connections will provide Canadians in rural and remote communities with new opportunities to participate in the digital economy and to take advantage of advances in telehealth, e-learning and remote access to government services.

Budget 2016 proposes to deliver on the Government’s priority of increasing high-speed broadband coverage by investing up to $500 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, for a new program to extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote communities.

More details on specific programs and initiatives related to broadband investment are expected to be announced in the coming months.

Fibre-optic connectivity and projects like SWIFT matters to Western Ontario and our entire region. Without truly innovative and collaborative infrastructure initiatives like SWIFT, coverage and capacity gaps in in our regional network infrastructure are likely to remain unaddressed. To quote Dr. Reza Rajabiun’s third-party review of our model, SWIFT offers “an innovative, realistic, and strong business model for ensuring that Western Ontario can catch up, and potentially surpass, urban Canada in broadband infrastructure quality and affordability.”

We know that rural Ontario can foster a new wave of small, smart places – we just need the infrastructure to connect them to the world!

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