One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is the elimination of the office – in some cases, permanently – and the ability for many Toronto professionals to work remotely.

For cottagers, this means taking video calls on the dock, sending emails from a cozy indoor nook with a lake view, or sharing spreadsheets in the early morning silence. At least, it does in theory. But something that often kills this digitally nomadic dream is the often painfully unreliable Internet service in cottage country.

But that may finally be changing (resulting in a much less swearword-inducing workday).

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The District of Muskoka council has joined a community initiative for a broadband gap analysis for Parry Sound-Muskoka. In an online meeting held on July 20, council members voted to contribute $10,500 towards a Muskoka Parry Sound Riding Cooperative Broadband Initiative broadband gap analysis for the region, led by Parry Sound Muskoka Community Network (PSMCN).

“The group has developed a request for proposal (for consultants) to undertake a broadband gap analysis to identify and map all of the residences and businesses in Muskoka and Parry Sound that do not currently have access to broadband internet that meet the national standards,” stated a district staff report, according to Muskoka “The (request for proposals) will also ask for cost analysis, next steps and recommendations for moving forward with implementation.”

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The district will pay the analysis tab with municipal modernization funds previously received from the province. And it's definitely a worthwhile allocation of funds.

Canada’s national standard is at least 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits per second upload. But – something that comes as no surprise to cottagers – according to PSMCN, roughly 60% of Parry Sound-Muskoka’s 77,000 households (and cottages) don’t have adequate access to broadband internet.

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Helping the connectivity cause, Internet access is highlighted as one of one of the priorities of the new COVID-19-inspired Muskoka Economic Recovery Task Force. While the issue of adequate Internet connectivity isn’t a new one in the region, the pandemic – and the remote working and learning it has inspired – has certainly served as a catalyst for change.

“(The pandemic) has also put pressure on local governments to advocate for improved broadband service availability and improvement to support functions such as working from home, e-learning from home, remote and virtual heath-care service delivery and increased demand for in-home entertainment,” states the report.

The request for proposal will be issued on August 1 with a submission deadline on September 30. A final report from the consultant is due March 31, 2021.

While the implementation of efficient Internet inevitably comes at a steep price, according to the report, the thinking is that the efforts of the communities across Muskoka and Parry Sound would be impactful enough to attract funds for research, planning, and – finally – connecting to the times.