Feds must honour internet promise
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | May 23, 2019|
On Dec. 15, 2016, the federal government announced it would invest $500 million towards greater access to highspeed internet in 300 rural and remote communities by 2021. They made quite the do out of it, heralding ‘Connect to Innovate’ as a means of bridging the digital divide.
At a press conference in Wakefield, QC, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development promised a portion of the initiative’s funding would go toward building new high-capacity ‘backbone’ networks, as well as upgrading existing backbone networks and providing ‘last mile’ connections.
Additional backbone capacity could be used to provide internet speeds of over five megabits per second and provide access to “life-changing online services such as tele-education and tele-medicine.”
In the wake of that announcement, the CRTC, just a week later on Dec. 21, 2016, declared broadband internet a basic telecommunication service. The national regulator ordered the country’s internet providers to begin working toward boosting internet service and speeds in rural and isolated areas. With the ruling, the CRTC set new targets for internet service providers to offer customers in all parts of the country download speeds of at least 50 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps, and to also offer the option of unlimited data.
Fast forward to May 23, 2019 … some 17 months later … and not enough has been done for the people of Haliburton County and Eastern Ontario. Sure, the service is better in the villages of Haliburton and Minden, but it remains dodgy for those who don’t live in either town.
Take Jacques Larroude, for example. He and his wife moved to Minden Hills a few years ago. They live in the infamous ‘Blairhampton triangle’ - a swathe of land between Highways 35, 21 and 118 that is a virtual no man’s land of internet coverage. The Bell fibre optic line stops 700 metres from their home. Because they are in the more central and sparsely-populated part of the road, it doesn’t justify the infrastructure investment according to Bell. Larroude wrote to their head office a year ago and the personal secretary of one of the big wigs told him so over the phone.
So, what does Friday’s announcement by the provincial government of a $71 million investment in the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s (EORN) internet project mean for us? Well, here’s the background. In 2017, EORN put together a mobile broadband perspective requiring $213 million in funding. It was to be split with $10 million from the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus (EOWC); $61 million from private providers; $71 million from the province and $71 million from the federal government.
The EOWC, private providers and the province have now placed their pieces into the funding puzzle. All that remains is for the federal government to make good on its $71-million. With a federal election in October, time is of the essence. The Liberals will go into lame duck status in June. That means time is running out for them to make good on their pledge. Some have argued they are holding off to make a splashy pre-election announcement. Others are concerned they won’t release the funds and it will delay the EORN project a further year to 18 months. Others say the lack of internet in Eastern Ontario will become the number one election issue if the feds don’t pull the trigger within the next month or so.
We implore the federal government to spend the money. People and businesses in Haliburton County have waited long enough to do things as simple as make a phone call along Highway 35 without hitting a dead zone or being able to stream Netflix without the spinning ball of death. Nor are we open for business in Haliburton County in the sense that our poor internet prevents us from accessing a world economy. Further, as the province makes big changes in education and medicine, we need infrastructure for tele-medicine and tele-education. It’s time for the federal government to honour its promise.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.