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Feds launch Universal Broadband Fund

Feds launch Universal Broadband Fund

Ottawa will spend a total of $1.75 billion to bring high-speed Internet to every Canadian by 2026

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Canada appears to be on the road to national high-speed connectivity.

On Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the launch of the Universal Broadband Fund.

This $1.75-billion investment over seven years, an increase of $750 million from the original $1 billion announced in the 2019 budget, aims to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities, and 98 per cent of Canadians overall by 2026.

“These are ambitious targets, and we’re ready to meet them,” the prime minister said.

High-speed Internet is defined as download speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 10 Mbps.

In December 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared high-speed Internet an essential service.

Providing Canadians with access to high-speed Internet will have a lasting effect on multiple fronts.

“Access to high-speed Internet is also equal access to health, education and jobs in the digital economy,” Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and industry, said during Monday’s announcement.

Internet access can also help Canada’s farmers.

“This is great news!” Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, posted to Twitter. “High-speed Internet will help keep us all connected and help our producers and agri-food businesses grow their potential.”

Members of the Canadian ag sector are pleased with the government’s commitment to build the necessary broadband infrastructure.

“High-speed Internet and better cellular service has been a top priority of our organization for quite some time,” Chris van den Heuvel, second vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), told “Especially during these pandemic times, we’ve come to rely on good Internet more than we have in the past.”

Van den Heuvel operates a dairy and beef operation in Cape Breton, N.S.

His Internet connection is poor, leading him to invest in alternative options that still don’t completely solve his connectivity problem.

“In our neck of the woods, the service is fairly terrible and we had to buy a separate cellular-based router to run the Internet off of that. We have some decent service but certainly it isn’t what it should be,” he said.

In addition, the unreliable connections make using today’s sophisticated ag equipment a challenge.

We’ve just installed robotic milking machines and we’ve got some other robotic equipment that requires good connectivity.

“If something goes wrong, we need to be able to check on the cows or the machinery,” he said. “We’d like to install more equipment, but the broadband is just too slow.”

In terms of the government’s timeline of 2026, the CFA is of the opinion that Canadians can have the reliable broadband they need sooner.

If government and stakeholders put a concerted focus on the issue, construction can begin soon, van den Heuvel said.

“The government can come through on this earlier than 2026,” he said. “The technology is out there and it takes a push by vendors, government and regulatory bodies that says this issue is a priority. Coming out of the pandemic, health is the number 1 priority, but food security has to be number 2. Getting Canadian farmers the Internet infrastructure they need will help ensure they can produce food for Canadians.”

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