The province is investing $1 billion to remove “Can you hear me now?” from the lexicon of rural and Northern Ontario residents.
As part of the Ontario government’s 2020 budget released Nov. 5, an additional $680 million over six yeas was added to the existing $315 million in Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.
Why it matters: Rural residents, especially on farms, struggle to get high speed, affordable internet, and during the pandemic, that’s become an economic issue as more people work and study at home.
“With the world online these days, if we are going to attract more investment to Ontario and compete in this highly competitive global marketplace,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We need every part of our province connected with high-speed internet.”
Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) data shows more than 1.4 million people across the province do not have broadband or cellular access and upwards of 10 per cent of household, mostly in rural, remote or Northern areas, are underserved or unserved in a broadband perspective.
Keith Currie, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, said the investment is going to benefit all of society, not just rural and Northern Ontario communities but urban as well.
“You’ll be able to get the 5G in place fairly quickly,” said Currie. “That opens up the door for much better broadband internet service to lots of parts of Ontario, including Northern Ontario.”
Currie said it’s not feasible to run fibre optic cables through Northern Ontario but putting up towers to service broadband and cellular service makes sense.
Bringing Northern Ontario connectivity on par with the rest of the province is key due to the tremendous expansion opportunities opening up in the region, he said.
“As our climate changes it will open up more and more opportunities for raising more corn product out there and raising more livestock,” said Currie. “Part of being able to do that is having adequate services.”
Having fibre and broadband infrastructure is an important first step, said Allan Thompson, Rural Ontario Municipal Association chair, but he hopes it leads to all the fibre being linked to 151 Front Street, in Toronto.
Why that particular address? It’s home to the country’s largest telecom nerve centre, or “carrier hotel” where telecom, internet service providers and content companies collocate to exchange traffic between their respective networks.
Making internet access an essential service would force those groups to shares their lines.
He says the government is starting to see the bigger picture on creating long term connections and appreciate that small telecoms could contribute to the building of effective interconnectivity in rural and northern areas at a much lower cost.
The government has “definitely listened and they’re trying to deliver – I give them full marks, I’m not knocking them down,” he said. “They’re really trying to make this province work for the people and I’m grateful for it.”
Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs he believes the $1 billion total investment from the province will go a long way, however, if the federal government agreed to a 60/40 share, as is done in most agriculture programs that would propel the projects even further.
“Let’s get as much of it built as we can so everybody has it,” he said.