Federal high-speed internet initiative receives $750 million funding boost

Budget 2019 had allocated $1 billion to the fund, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how critical it is that Canadians in rural and remote areas get better connectivity. | Getty Images

Ottawa added $750 million to its Universal Broadband Fund Nov. 9 in a bid to speed up Canadians’ access to high-speed internet.

Budget 2019 had allocated $1 billion to the fund, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how critical it is that Canadians in rural and remote areas get better connectivity. The now-$1.75 billion fund will ensure that 98 percent of Canadians have high speed internet by 2026.

“Daily routines have changed,” Trudeau said regarding the pandemic and people working more online. “Now more than ever a video chat cutting out during a meeting or a connection that’s too slow to upload a school assignment, that’s not just a hassle. I t’s a barrier.

“Good reliable internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a basic service and it’s a service that every single Canadian deserves.”

The fund will be used for infrastructure construction almost entirely in rural and remote areas, he said.

A $600 million agreement with Telesat will provide satellite connectivity for remote regions. Telesat operates a low Earth orbit satellite constellation, less than two kilometres from the Earth’s surface. The government’s backgrounder to the announcement said this capacity would be made available to internet service providers at a reduced rate to provide access in the most challenging rural and remote communities.

Trudeau said these investments come on top of the $2 billion already allocated through the Canada Infrastructure Bank for broadband in rural and northern communities.

He added that $150 million of the fund will be available immediately for projects under a rapid response stream.

Rural economic development minister Maryam Monsef said Canadians had input into the design of the programs, including a pathfinder service to help applicants.

“Our No. 1 priority now is to encourage and support strong applications to connect every corner of this country,” she said. “COVID hasn’t created the need for increased connectivity but it has added urgency to this work.”

The Liberal government said it has spent 10 times as much on connectivity since 2015 than all previous governments combined.

Innovation minister Navdeep Bains called high speed an essential service. He said the government wants to make sure it promotes competition among suppliers to keep costs down.

Asked why it took a pandemic to get this done, Monsef said the program was ready to go in March but then COVID hit and municipalities had to turn their attentions to it. She said tens of thousands of households will be connected by the end of this year, and more than a quarter-million by the end of next year.

“We’re not going to stop until we connect every single household to this essential service,” she said.

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