CRTC finally announces first round of Broadband Fund to connect Canada’s north
But piecemeal support highlights need for federal national broadband strategy
August 12, 2020 — Today the CRTC announced $72 million in funding for five broadband buildout projects in northern Manitoba, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. This is the first specific funding announcement since applications closed in November 2019 for the $750 million the CRTC has dedicated to improving broadband Internet access in underserved areas of Canada.
“It is good to see that the CRTC is finally making some funding available to some rural communities,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “But a real disappointment to see the first announcement come in such a meagre and piecemeal approach. The announced 316 km of fibre would barely connect Ottawa and Toronto - how far is that going to go in connecting the North? Where is support for Nunavut? And longer-term, with over 80% of funding going to Bell-owned Northwestel, it looks like this funding will reinforce the power of incumbent providers over rural Canada, and lock Northern communities into working with a company that has already made clear they aren’t terribly interested in supporting them.”
“We’re hopeful this funding will pave the way for a stronger announcement soon from Minister Monsef around the $1.7 billion Universal Broadband Fund,” added Hatfield. “The government needs to provide a strategic plan that makes it clear how it plans to connect the entire country, not just make patchwork improvements here and there. This investment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the government needs to get it right. They need to choose between further entrenching an oligopoly or fostering competition; and between accepting something as ‘good enough’, or future-proofing their investments to scale for years to come. We hope to see the government lay the groundwork for meeting not just the 50 mbps down/10 up target the CRTC set in 2016, but the predictably increasing connectivity needs people will have in the future – or we’ll be having this whole conversation again a decade from now.”
Approximately $62 million of the funding announced by the CRTC today has been promised to Bell-owned Northwestel for two satellite projects and two fibre projects in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, each promising 50 Mbps down/10 Mbps up/unlimited data connectivity. Broadband Communications North will receive $9.6 million to support a single satellite project in north Manitoba, promising 10 Mbps down/1 up/unlimited connectivity.
Over 500 people from the wrong side of Canada’s digital divide have recently shared their unique pandemic Internet stories through OpenMedia’s online story tool, a platform for public voices calling for rapid action on ensuring universal access to affordable, good-quality Internet during COVID-19.
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