/Fed budget contains cash for rural broadband

Fed budget contains cash for rural broadband

By Chad Ingram

Published March 26, 2019


The federal budget, released last week, contains money for the expansion of rural, broadband internet. 


The budget has $1.7 billion allotted for internet infrastructure and satellite technology for under-serviced areas.  


Though he’s happy to see the funding, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock
MP Jamie Schmale noted that, while a plan for further rural broadband
expansion and improved cellular service in eastern Ontario has been in
the works for a couple of years, the funding from the feds is only
coming now, in an election year. 


“Although I am pleased to see Budget 2019 will support the expansion
of much-needed broadband networks in rural Canada, I’m frustrated that a
commitment has only been made in an election year,” Schmale said in a
press release. “This, despite a plan for eastern Ontario being on the
minister’s desk for two years, forcing people in our area to wait
needlessly without reliable internet and cellular service.” 


The mobile broadband expansion project by the Eastern Ontario
Regional Network has an estimated price tag of $213 million and will
entail the construction of several new telecommunications towers
throughout eastern Ontario. A number of areas within that part of the
province, including large swaths of Haliburton County, remain without
reliable, wireless internet connectivity. 


Of that total cost, $10 million is budgeted to come from the Eastern
Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which owns EORN, along with the separated city
governments within the area; $71 million from the federal government;
$71 million from the provincial government; and $61 million from the
mobile provider companies themselves. While the provincial government
committed to its $71 million on the project under former premier
Kathleen Wynne, funding that the Ford government has committed to
continue, there has been no word on federal funding until now. 


At press time, it was unclear whether the $71 million that EORN is
seeking from the federal government will come from the internet pot in
this year’s budget. 


“We don’t know that yet,” Schmale told the Echo. “We’re waiting for details.” 


The MP said in order for the project to proceed in the 2020
construction season, EORN would need to know soon whether it’s receiving


“If the government does not decide soon, then it goes to the next
construction season,” Schmale said. “I think the people of the county
have been more than patient.” 


The government’s goal is for every Canadian, regardless of where they live, to have reliable internet connectivity by 2030.  


The budget contains a number of spending items aimed at improving the
lives of middle-class Canadians, from a new home-buyers’ incentive
program to money for skills retraining, to increased coverage for drugs
for rare diseases to a number of measures for seniors. 


The Canadian Association of Retired Persons is pleased with the federal budget.


“CARP has been calling for significant changes to safeguard Canadians
as we age. The government has listened,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts,
CARP’s chief public policy officer, in a press release. “CARP applauds
the federal government for taking decisive action in reducing the GIS
(guaranteed income supplement) claw-back, increasing federal pension
protections, supporting deferred annuities for seniors, a new EI
caregiving benefit and housing supports for low income seniors.”


Schmale too noted the budget contains positive measures for low-income seniors. 


The federal government is also provided $2.2 billion from its gas tax
money to municipalities for infrastructure projects, which will come in
the form of one-time cash infusions. 


“They get that one-time stream of funding and they can pretty much do
what they want with it,” Schmale said, adding that with the province
providing a similar one-time funding grant to small and rural municipal
governments, it should be a good year for municipal governments. 


The budget contains $41 billion in new spending and runs a deficit of
$19.8 billion. The four budgets of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s
government have all included deficits, with an average of about $18
billion a year. Schmale called the scope of spending in the budget


“It’s mostly services, so it means locked and permanent,” he said of
the spending, calling it unsustainable and saying it would mean service
cuts down the road. “We continue to spend in good times . . . there are
some reports saying the economy could start to slow down, we’ve racked
up the credit card.” 


Schmale also noted Trudeau’s broken promise to balance the federal budget in the last year of this term. 


The Conservatives have said the big-spending budget is meant to distract Canadians from the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.