The Ontario government says it will commit close to $1 billion over six years to improve and expand broadband and cellular access across the province.
The Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan will be used for shovel-ready projects starting in 2019-20, with a goal of connecting unserved and underserved communities during COVID-19 and beyond.
“By providing high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved communities like Minden Hills, we will create good jobs, unlock new opportunities for businesses and people, and improve the quality of life for individuals and families,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“With the world online these days, if we are going to attract more investment to Ontario and compete in this highly competitive global marketplace, we need every part of our province connected with high-speed Internet.”
The spending announced last week also doubles funding for the Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program, bringing the new total to $300 million.
Officials say the program now has the potential to leverage more than $900 million in partner funding to improve connectivity in areas of need across Ontario. As part of Ontario’s broadband and cellular action plan, ICON is one of several provincial initiatives underway to improve connectivity across Northern, Eastern and Southwestern Ontario.
“The first pillar of this action plan is Protect, making good on Premier Ford’s commitment to do whatever it takes to get through the pandemic,” Minister of Finance Rod Phillips said in a statement.
“The second pillar is Support, because we know COVID-19 has brought severe challenges and economic difficulties to families and employers across the province. The third pillar is Recover and includes today’s historic investment in broadband. Though initiatives like this our government is laying the foundation for a strong economic recovery and a successful future.”
Over 1.4 million people in Ontario do not have broadband or cellular access, and an estimated 12 per cent of households, mostly in rural, remote or Northern areas, are underserved or unserved from the perspective of broadband, according to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) data.
“This investment will connect even more residents in communities across Ontario to faster, more reliable Internet and cell service,” said Laurie Scott, minister of infrastructure. “Today’s commitment to connect more people to reliable broadband and cellular service ― along with many others we’ve made ― will make it easier for more people to work and learn from home, run their businesses and connect with others.”
In October, the province released Ontario Onwards: Ontario’s COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government. Improving access to broadband and cellular service is one of the initial projects.
ICON was launched in July to leverage partner funding by inviting applicants like telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits, to submit innovative proposals and lend their investment, expertise and experience to improve connectivity in communities across Ontario. The province funds a portion of each approved project.
Over the past several months, Ontario has partnered with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) to invest $71 million in a $213 million project to improve access to cellular service and mobile broadband in Eastern Ontario.
The province is also contributing $190 million to the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario. In the past few months, SWIFT Inc. has awarded contracts to bring high-speed Internet to thousands of residents in Lambton, Wellington, Norfolk, Oxford, Dufferin, Essex and Caledon. More contracts are expected in the coming months.