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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

“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

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My name is Michael Wendling. I am a 6th generation farmer in East Central Illinois. We grow white & yellow corn for Frito Lay, and we also grow soybeans. The family farm was established in 1879.