Already playing a role in our lives beyond simply entertainment, internet links are now a vital part of stay-at-home efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, keeping us connected to work, school and our friends and families.
It’s no surprise, then, that governments have stepped up existing efforts to extend high-speed internet services to rural parts of the country. The federal government last week announced plans to spend $1.75 billion in underserviced parts of the country. The goal is to see 98 per cent of Canadians have the connection speeds they need by 2026, with all Canadians connected by 2030.
While not as remote as some of the target areas, Waterloo Region’s rural townships don’t have uniform access to reliable internet connections. Through the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), areas still looking for better speeds will not have to wait much longer.
The new funding will help connect those underserved by regular internet service providers within the next few years, says Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis, adding he has already spoken with township mayors and is happy with the dialogue that came out of that meeting.
“We’re listening. We heard that connectivity is now essential – you know, what the railroads used to be at one point, is now the internet. Whether it’s businesses, whether it’s families, whether it’s postsecondary or just students in general, it’s become a necessity. We know this, and we’re moving fast,” said Louis.
Though the UBF is set to improve internet speeds in areas which are underserved, it also aims to quickly help those people who are in areas with poor to little connection.
The fund now includes a $150 million rapid response stream which comes with an accelerated application process that will allow shovel ready projects to start immediately. There is also $800 million in the core UBF, up to $750-million available for large impact projects, and up to $50 million will be designated to help support mobile projects that are aimed at assisting indigenous communities.
The government is also committing $600 million to secure low-earth-orbit satellite capacity through Telesat, which will provide high-speed internet to the most rural and underserved parts of the country.
Louis says the expectations will be for far north parts of the country to be able to access internet service from the low-earth-orbit satellites by 2022, with the rest of the country being able to access this by 2023.
He says with the rapid response stream, townships can work with local internet service providers and put together an application by early January 2021, to get projects started, adding the goal is to have those projects completed by November 2021 because there’s a need for quick action.
Wellesley Township Mayor Joe Nowak says they intend to look into the UBF and see whether or not they can take advantage of it. He says most of the urban centres are covered by high-speed internet, however, they do get requests fairly regularly from individuals who live outside these areas who are looking for help in attaining better coverage for their internet connections.
Applications are now open for those who wish to access the UBF. The rapid response stream is also accepting applications.
“Now more than ever, Canadians need reliable access to high-speed internet as we work, learn, and communicate with our family and friends from home. With [this] announcement, we are continuing to bring faster internet access to every part of our country, helping businesses grow, creating new jobs, and building a better Canada for everyone,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a release.