By Chad Ingram
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and members of his cabinet were in Minden on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to make a substantial funding announcement regarding broadband internet.
That announcement, which came ahead of Thursday’s provincial budget, was for $680 million in new funding for internet projects throughout Ontario, which comes in addition to $315 million in existing funding through what the government calls Up To Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan. The announcement took place within the Minden branch of the Haliburton County Public Library.
“For communities like Minden, better broadband can make a world of difference,” Ford said. “It means more economic development, more chances to grow a business, more opportunities for young people, and we’ll continue to grow and expand these investments, with our telecom and municipal partners.”
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott called the announcement a “watershed moment” for broadband.
“This includes the doubling of our ICON [Improving Connectivity for Ontario] program, adding an additional $150 million, bringing ICON funding to $300 million,” Scott said. An announcement of the initial $150 million for the program was made in the spring. “This adds to the $315 million that Ontario has invested in the past year.”
All the funding combined totals nearly $1 billion over a six-year period.
“We’re hopeful that the federal government will release its Universal Broadband Fund,” Scott said. “Ontario has stepped up and is putting $1 billion on the table. Ontario isn’t waiting any longer. That is why we are taking action today. As the premier has said, there is no more important infrastructure project than broadband.”
The federal government subsequently announced the launch of the Universal Broadband Fund on Nov. 9, a $1.75-billion program that aims to connect all Canadians, regardless of where they live, with broadband internet by 2030. The announcement did not include specifics about how the new funding would be accessed.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin sits on the board of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, which is currently embarking on its $213-million cell gap project, which aims to connect the remaining areas of eastern Ontario with low or no connectivity with mobile broadband internet.
“2020 has been a year like no other,” Devolin said. “COVID-19 has highlighted the necessity for access to reliable, high-speed internet services for all Ontarians. Just as the construction of the railroad brought people together spurring economic growth across the country, building broadband networks that allow residents and businesses to connect with each other and the world, will help our communities here and across the province flourish. EORN has been fortunate to work with the provincial and federal governments on joint connectivity projects, including the current cell gap project.”
The provincial and federal government each supplied $71 million for that project, the remainder coming from telecom providers, as well as municipal governments.
“When this project is completed, it will ensure that no matter where people live, work or travel on major roadways, that they can use their mobile devices to make a call or connect to do important business. We know that this is just one component of a connected region, and more needs to be done. EORN looks forward to continuing to work with the government of Ontario to help our communities.”