Feds vow to boost rural internet service

The federal government committed $500 million in its 2016-17 budget in March to improve rural internet service.

In December, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains delivered the goods.

“By increasing access to high-speed Internet, the Connect to Innovate program enhances our rural and remote communities’ ability to innovate, participate in the digital economy and create jobs for middle-class families,” Bains said in a statement.

The Connect to Innovate program is an investment of up to $500 million between now and 2021 to improve internet service in 300 rural and remote communities.

The money will be used to build what the government calls high capacity “backbone” networks to transport digital information or upgrade existing networks.

Bains said rural residents and institutions will see a dramatic change in internet speeds when the networks are installed.

“Backbone networks are the digital highways that move data in and out of communities,” he said.

“They enable physicians to see patients remotely from a distance — an application known as telehealth. And they allow students in one classroom to connect with their peers in other parts of the country — an application known as virtual classrooms.”

Inadequate or expensive internet service has infuriated rural Canadians for years. Politicians have talked about the issue, but there has been little action.

Many have said digital connections are essential in towns and villages for commerce and quality of life.

“If we don’t have these services, we aren’t going to stay in rural Saskatchewan,” Rick Swenson, Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan leader, said earlier this year.

“Plain and simple, people won’t stay in their communities (and) they won’t build businesses … so it’s a priority that has to be changed.”

Community leaders have a few months to apply for funding. The application deadline is March 13, 2017.

For more information, visit www.canada.ca/en/innovation-science-economic-development/programs/computer-internet-access/connect-to-innovate/application-toolkit.html.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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