Canadian Underwriter

Are brokers affected by an urban-rural connectivity gap?

April 24, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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Rural clients should be able to access the Internet at high enough speeds for brokers to offer them digital services, says one Alberta broker.

“I would say there is no issue,” said Rob Barros, chief technology officer and chief communications officer for Alberta brokerage Leibel Insurance Group. “A client, provided they’ve got access to the Internet and the brokerage they are looking to work with is digitally savvy and has the tools available for them, there should not be an issue.”

Barros talked to Canadian Underwriter Thursday about digital services in rural areas. He was asked about the ability of rural clients – as opposed to those living in major cities – to do electronic commerce with their insurance providers.

At the moment the “overwhelming majority” of Canadians have access to the Internet at upstream speeds of at least a megatbit per second and download speeds of at least 5 megabits per second, the federal department of innovation, science and development notes in a recent paper.

This means the clients can send data to someone else at a megabit per second while receiving data from the Internet at 5 Mbps. By comparison, the typical consumer’s download speed was more than 100 times slower – less than 50 kilobits per second – in the late 1990s, before phone companies rolled out digital subscriber line services.

That said, Industry, Science and Economic Development Canada acknowledges there is still “connectivity gap” between rural and urban Canada.

In rural Canada, the speed is “is often too slow for rural and remote Canadians to be able to take advantage of even a fraction of what the Internet has to offer,” ISED reports in High-speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy.

The federal government plans to spend $6 billion on improving broadband Internet. The aim is for every Canadian to have Internet connectivity at 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream.

Canadians with only 5 Mbps down and one up lack the bandwidth for cloud-based software applications, online learning resources, or high-definition streaming videos, ISED reports. Their connection rates are often too slow to support multiple users or to use telehealth services properly.

For insurance clients, not having a computer in the first place is a barrier for some. Others may have older machines without the proper specs.

“Interestingly enough, despite having older computers, a number of rural clients have got their [smart] phones and in today’s day and age, quite often the first platform that anyone is developing for is a mobile experience versus just an online experience. So they should be able to access it,” said Barros.

If the customer does not have a smart phone or modern computer, or Internet, then a broker can still do the work over the phone, he adds.

“There is definitely a tendency for rural customers to enjoy the face-to-face contact. With the current pandemic going on, face-to-face contact is really not happening.”

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