Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa’s delayed broadband fund welcomed with skepticism by interest groups

The government is ready to accept applications immediately

The Trudeau government officially launched a previously announced fund Monday that promises to provide $1.75 billion for rural and remote parts of Canada that currently don’t have fast, reliable internet service.

But there was skepticism about how well the government will follow through on its promises and its ability to make sure the money rolls out quickly to projects that will make a difference for families and businesses outside major urban areas..

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and OpenMedia, for instance, welcomed an extra $750 million that the government is making on top of $1 billion originally announced in March 2019.

But both the business lobby group and the non-profit consumer advocacy group said they want to see that the Trudeau government follows through on its promises of better internet and wireless service for underserved areas.

Maryam Monsef, minister for rural economic development, said the Trudeau government had been ready to officially launch the fund in March but decided to hold off to consult with members of Parliament from rural areas and officials from local governments that were overwhelmed by the COVID crisis.

“We heard that the processes have to be streamlined and more easily accessible,” Monsef said at the Ottawa press conference. “We also heard that communities are, rightfully so, impatient to see progress.”

As a response, she said, the government is ready to accept applications immediately, there’s a new service to assist with navigating the system, and $150 million of the $1.7 billion is designated for projects that are ready to be completed by next November.

Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, the Chamber’s senior director of digital economy, technology and innovation, said its members want the government to accelerate and streamline its efforts because “everyone has moved online.”

She described Monday’s announcement as “another building block” and the Chamber will work with its members and partners within governments towards getting the plans implemented.

University of Guelph professor Helen Hambly, who heads a project that has been studying rural and agricultural connectivity issues since 2007, said that she was glad that the government had “opened the door” for applications for the universal broadband fund and announced tools to make their work easier.

But Hambly said it remains to be seen how they sort through requests for a relatively small amount of money, considering how much internet and wireless networks cost to build.

She said a “real cause for concern” has been the lack of competition in rural parts of Canada, even in relatively densely populated southern Ontario, and the result has been a lack of choice.

“Unlimited data packages are still few and far between, so people are going over their (limits) at high costs to themselves and their households. This has been a real cause of concern during COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was accompanied by four of his ministers during the official announcement in Ottawa, said reliable internet is a basic service, not a luxury.

“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, that’s a barrier.”

Another barrier that was acknowledged by some of Trudeau’s ministers, under questioning from reporters, is the lack of affordable internet and wireless service in some areas.

OpenMedia, which campaigns for consumer-oriented improvements to Canada’s information services, said in a statement that the Universal Broadband Fund will be a “much-needed boost” to the country’s digital infrastructure.

But OpenMedia campaigner Erin Knight said it remains concerned that a majority of the funds will go to benefit Big Telecom — meaning the country’s large phone and cable companies.

“We’d like to see the government’s investment actively put toward smaller, local, community or Indigenous-led projects,” Knight said.

READ MORE: Trudeau pledges $1.75B to boost high-speed internet in remote communities

In addition to the Universal Broadband Fund, the government announced a $600-million deal with Ottawa-based satellite company Telesat to link up particularly remote communities with high-speed broadband via satellite.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said Telesat’s low-orbit satellites are scheduled to be deployed in late 2021 and service is projected to begin in 2022.

Bains also acknowledged that many communities in the North have faced bracingly high internet fees. He said the government believes competition among different service providers would “enable the price points to go down.”

The Universal Broadband Fund is partly an evolution of the Connect to Innovate program that the Trudeau government announced in its first mandate, to connect more households to the internet, and partly a complement to its $35-billion infrastructure bank.

The Liberals created the Canada Infrastructure Bank in 2017 to entice funding from private-sector partners to fuel what the government has called “transformational” infrastructure projects that would create 60,000 jobs.

However, the bank has been criticized for its relatively small number of investments in fewer than a dozen projects so far and both the Conservatives and NDP promised in the 2019 election to abolish the bank if they were voted into power.

— With files from Christopher Reynolds in Ottawa

David Paddon, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Internet and Telecom

Just Posted

Parking time is to be limited in one spot on 9th. (Houston Today photo)
District seeks grant to update bylaws

And decides on 15-minute parking

Bench installation on 9th Street is another sign the project is nearing completion. (Houston Today photo)
Progress being made on 9th Street finish

District aiming for June completion

File photo
Mental health checks proving valuable

Police officer and nurse team up each week

The two billboards for the Cow Moose Sign project arrived in Topley last week with Justin Cradock, owner of Pitbull Trucking Ltd. and the area is now getting prepared for installation. (Dan Simmons photo/Houston Today)
Cow Moose sign project billboards arrive in Topley

Two billboards for the Cow Moose Sign project have arrived in Topley… Continue reading

File photo
Snow clearing changes would cost money, survey finds

Council being asked to give direction

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Arrests begin at Fairy Creek blockade on Vancouver Island

Five protesters arrested as RCMP begin to enforce injunction

A thunderstorm pictured in Fraser Valley in 2021. (Black Press Media/Jaimie Grafstrom)
Wildfire concerns sparked after 320+ lightning strikes blasted B.C. yesterday

Approximately one-quarter of the province is currently listed as being at moderate risk of fire

A restaurant server on White Rock’s Marine Drive serves customers on a roadside patio. Indoor dining and recreational travel bans have been in effect since late March in B.C. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

A crew of WestCoast WILD Adventures employees tackled an onslaught of litter left at the ‘Locks of Love’ fence at Wally Creek on May 2. (Anne-Marie Gosselin photo)
Litter woes consume popular ‘Locks of Love’ fence on B.C.’s Pacific Rim

Popular view spot near Tofino plagued by people hanging masks and other unwanted garbage

Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor at the United Nations Global Compact on Oceans, as well as director for the Food Programme for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, pulls up some sugar kelp seaweed off the French coast in April 2020. He was the keynote speaker during the opening ceremony of the inaugural Seaweed Days Festival. (Vincent Doumeizel/Submitted)
Let’s hear it for seaweed: slimy, unsexy and the world’s greatest untapped food source

Experts talks emerging industry’s challenges and potential at Sidney inaugural Seawood Days Festival

Troy Patterson, a Cadboro Bay 15-year-old, got a virtual meeting with B.C.’s environment minister months after he started an online petition calling for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline to stop. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
B.C. teen’s 23,000-name Coastal GasLink petition gets him an audience with the minister

15-year-old Saanich high school student and George Heyman discussed project for about 30 minutes

Most Read