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Trudeau adds $750 million to Universal Broadband Fund to connect more Canadians with high-speed internet

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Associated Press

Justin Trudeau announced an additional $750 million of funding to the Universal Broadband Fund to help connect Canadians to high-speed internet across the country.

The investment aims to connect 98 per cent of Canadians by 2026, with a goal to connect 100 per cent by 2030, a press release said.

“Good reliable internet isn’t a luxury. it’s a basic service and it’s a service that every single Canadian deserves,” Trudeau said during a press conference.

The additional fund will top up the $1 billion announced in last year’s budget, it said, adding that this will “help advance projects with partners, like the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB).”

The government announced an additional $1 billion through the CIB in October to help fund projects that will connect Canadians. Experts have said that with so many different funding streams to connect Canadians, the government will have a challenging time coordinating between different departments to roll out funding for projects.

Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, Maryam Monsef, said that right now there are “a lot of cooks in this kitchen” and that the government is launching a tracker to show progress on projects moving forward.

Today’s announcement includes $150 million for Rapid Response Stream, a program the government will use to funnel public capital to “shovel-ready projects to get started right away.” Monsef said during the press conference that applications for the support program are open today.

“We will process those applications on an ongoing basis so that there is no delay in that process. So if you have a good idea on how to get connected and your project is shovel ready in your communities on board, reach out to us because we’re here to help,” she said.

Since 2016, the government has announced various funds to help connect more Canadians to broadband services. This includes the $585 million Connect to Innovate program administered through the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Ministry; and $2 billion that would be brought in through private investment announced in the 2019 budget.

The CRTC also announced its own $750M Broadband Fund in late 2016.

In the 2019 budget, the government pledged to connect 100 per cent of Canadians to broadband internet services by 2030.

Today’s announcement also noted the government has reached a $600 million agreement with Canadian satellite company Telesat to improve connectivity and improve through low-earth-orbit satellite capacity.

Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said that working with companies like Telesat will offer more competition, which will ensure that prices will not increase when more services are offered.

There needs to be a broadband czar: Lawford

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said in an interview that even though the news is positive, this is a sign of the government “throwing money at the problem in a piecemeal fashion and it’s uncoordinated.”

He added that it was getting out of hand and there needs to be one person “who is king or queen” that is in charge of all internet funds.

Lawford noted that the announcement comes as the government deals with the global COVID-19 pandemic so it was good that some projects will immediately get a green light, but he noted that the term “shovel-ready projects” isn’t clearly defined.

“What does what mean? Shovel-ready to me indicates that subdivision just on the edge of town that we haven’t worked on yet,” he said. “Probably areas where there’s an internet backhaul that was already going to be done anyway.”

And while the government announced today that there will be a tracker to manage these projects, Lawford was skeptical over 98 per cent of Canadians being connected.

“Do they even know where those are, are they prioritizing the hardest to reach places? I bet not,” he said. “Do you want to connect everybody or do you want to keep nibbling at the edges and putting money in close to the cities?”

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