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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror
Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

No unused COVID-19 vaccines are going to waste at the end of… Continue reading

Where urban and natural landscapes meet can be a very interesting place. The Museum at Campbell River and Greenways Land Trust are hosting a talk on Earth Day on that topic. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Where urban and natural meet

Earth Day talk looks at urban biodiversity

Ryan Rasmussen goes on a training run on Quadra Island. Photo supplied.
Quadra Island man to run 160 km to raise funds for alternative cancer care

‘I feel like I need to be in pain to raise the money… I can’t do something that’s easy’ — Ryan Rasmussen

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Ali Ellsworth is passionate about doing her part for Mother Earth and can be seen eagerly and happily cleaning up garbage around her Holm Road neighborhood, on a regular basis. She is a contestant in the Second Annual Small Planet Clean-up . Photo contributed
Ali does her part for Mother Earth by cleaning up around her neighbourhood

The Small Planet Energy team are thrilled to introduce you to a… Continue reading

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are recovering and the team still intends to play a 56-game season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks players ‘mostly on the other side’ of COVID outbreak: general manager

The athletes have had a “whole range” of COVID-19 symptoms, said team physician Dr. Jim Bovard, but no one has needed to be hospitalized

Police are investigating after a man was shot Thursday, April 8 while sitting in a car in Vancouver. (Black Press files)
Man shot in Vancouver while sitting in a parked car: police

The victim is currently in critical condition. Police say no arrests have been made.

Most Read