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Feds invest in rural broadband

Feds invest in rural broadband

The rollout timeline is unacceptable, some stakeholders argue

By Jim Algie

Tuesday’s federal budget promised “universal high-speed Internet for every Canadian” by 2030 “no matter where they are located.”

Drew Spoelstra, an executive member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) board of directors, had mixed feelings about the announcement.

While it was “encouraging” to read of federal government intentions, the long delay “absolutely needs to be accelerated,” he said in an emailed response to Farms.com.

“It’s inconceivable that, heading into 2020, rural residents, farms and businesses will still be waiting for access to reliable and affordable Internet service,” he added.

“Building a Better Canada: Universal High-Speed Internet,” a three-page background paper released as part of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2019 budget, proposed “a new, coordinated plan” to fill gaps in earlier government programs. He backed that proposal with an additional predicted investment of between $5 and $6 billion over 10 years.

The funding includes $1.7 billion more for existing programs and the launch of a new Universal Broadband Fund to help finance new low-latency Earth-orbit satellites. This technology is expected to help bring broadband to “even the most challenging-to-reach rural and remote” areas of the country, Morneau’s statement said.

The plan indicates expected investments of “up to $1 billion” by the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the leverage of “at least $2 billion in private capital” on increased broadband access.

Along this private investment vein, on Friday, Xplornet Communications Inc. announced a $500-million investment over five years in new fibre optics “backbone” equipment. Xplornet is a New Brunswick-based wireless service provider.

In her statement, Allison Lenehan, Xplornet’s CEO, credited an accelerated investment incentive for telecommunications equipment that Morneau announced last fall.

Existing federal broadband programs have their critics, however, including the former federal auditor general. In one of his last acts in office, the late Michael Ferguson released a November report on connectivity in rural areas. He highlighted slow progress on the issue and poor coordination of federal efforts.

In a Jan. 25 commentary article published on the OFA website, Spoelstra criticized the CRTC for “unrealistic eligibility criteria” that could exclude as many as 100,000 families in southwestern rural Ontario.

In his Tuesday statement, Spoelstra reiterated recent concerns about “how the CRTC has developed the criteria to identify underserviced areas of the country with regard to high speed internet.”

As well, SWIFT, an Ontario-based promoter of improved Internet service established by a group of western Ontario municipal governments, issued a petition in December seeking changes to a CRTC funding model for rural broadband. The $750-million CRTC program favours private-sector providers and restricts federal funding to local government and regional projects, the petition said.

SWIFT representatives could not be reached for budget comment on Tuesday afternoon.

artiemedvedev/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

Comments (2)


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Well we are now delayed till 2030 there is a quick way to solve this problem stop the major telecoms from pre wiring new Housing in cities as because there are no services installed they qualify as under serviced areas. Make it that for every meter of fiber cable installed a new subdivision similar amount must be installed in rural areas. I live in Melbourne in just outside of town because of the angle of our house and Mature trees we can not get a wireless connection from major game players Explornet etc. What I am saddled with is very expensive cell phone wireless.No Netflix,no Amazon Prime no premium services.We in rural areas are treated by second class citizens lets rise up and get the ball rolling.
Gordon Robbins |Mar 21 2019 1:07PM
I have had a so called high speed internet since 2013 with Explornet, if they consider it high speed I would hate to see what slow and lazy is like. Some days it is slower than what my dial up was. After a long battle with them I subscribed to the more expensive so called high speed with no difference except on my bill. The same excuse every time. Depends how many people are using it, well if that is the case then why have they over sold???? Some days I can walk 600 feet to my mail box to deliver a letter in the amount of time it takes to send an e mail. High speed ya right!!!
Ron Steffler |Mar 21 2019 8:21AM