/Province announces additional internet funding amid COVID-19 crisis  

Province announces additional internet funding amid COVID-19 crisis  

By Chad Ingram

Last week, the provincial government announced more funding for internet
infrastructure in Ontario, aimed at bringing enhanced broadband and cellular service to rural, remote and under-serviced areas.
The $150 million in funding is part of a $315-million program from the province called Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.
At a June 3 press conference, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott said the self-isolation protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored the need for reliable internet that allows more people to work from home.
“By doing their part and staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the people of Ontario have demonstrated the need to be connected to learn, work, and run their businesses,” Scott said. “It appears that functioning remotely will continue to be a regular way of life for many in this new environment, and fast reliable internet will be critical.”
Organizations including municipal governments and non-profit groups, as well as telecom companies, can apply for funding for projects under the program.
In terms of broadband cellular connectivity throughout eastern Ontario, the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus continues to work on its massive, $213-million cell gap project through its Eastern Ontario Regional Network, the project aiming to essentially eradicate gaps in service throughout the region with the construction of new telecommunications towers.
“Although the recent announcement for funding from the province is to be applauded, it will likely be better suited for smaller private and municipal projects,” Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen told the Times in an email. “Whatever portion of that funding EORN might quality for would, in essence, be a drop in the bucket when compared against the overall cost of the project about to get underway or future projects being proposed.”
Danielsen, who sits on the EOWC, said its members would be meeting with MPPs to discuss not only enhanced internet service, but other priorities that have been raised by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Members of the warden’s caucus will be meeting with a number of Ontario’s MPPs in the near future to address this need along with offers of assistance in planning for improved long-term healthcare and planning for the overall economy and municipal recovery, not only of eastern Ontario, but all of Ontario given the overall impact of the pandemic,” Danielsen wrote. “Meanwhile we will continue to be a strong voice on behalf of Haliburton County and all of our residents.”
While 63 per cent of households and businesses within the area served by EOWC do not have access to the standard broadband downloading/uploading speed of 50/10 Mbps, “in actuality, when you remove the cities in eastern Ontario, only approximately 46 per cent of rural municipalities have access to relatively decent service,” Danielsen told the paper. “During the pandemic we have all found that the need to access better service is critical if we are to work in a newly crafted environment, which will likely be the case for some time to come if not permanently. It has been said that the pandemic has in fact, created a great divide in access to service depending on where you live.”
The $213-million EORN project includes $71 million in funding from each of the federal and provincial governments, and $10 million in funding from the member municipalities of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which includes Haliburton County. The County of Haliburton will contribute up to $565,000 to the project, and the remaining $61 million is to be funded by mobile service providers.
Initial requests for proposals for the project were recently released, and it’s
expected to take three to four years to complete.
“All of the members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus were unanimous in their support of EORN’s recommendation to pursue expanded service in cooperation with higher levels of government and the private sector,” Danielsen wrote. “The unfortunate aspect of the work that will get underway later this year is that a project of this magnitude will still
take considerable time and it will be a number of years before completion and until we can compete with urban areas.”