Infrastructure Bank expands broadband funding, but universal connectivity priorities remain unclear
Canada still needs a national strategy to outline when each household will be connected, and how
October 1, 2020 — Today the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) announced $2 billion of funding for connecting poorly served Canadian households to broadband Internet over the next three years, an increase from the Bank’s previous commitment of $1 billion over 10 years.
The funding is part of the CIB’s newly unveiled $10 billion Growth Plan, and supplemental to the still-forthcoming $1.7 billion dollars of the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund, and the CRTC’s $750 million Broadband Fund.
“Today’s announcement is a positive step: we definitely need more broadband funding on a faster timeline. But the announcement also leaves us with more questions than answers – starting with, who is being prioritized for funding, and when can underserved Canadians actually expect to be connected?” said OpenMedia Executive Director Laura Tribe. “Between the CRTC, federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund, and Infrastructure Bank commitments, we have three different pools of money with no clear plan for who’s tackling what, or when. For those without adequate Internet, this leaves them no closer to understanding when they can expect to see change. The federal government needs to put forward a national connectivity strategy, with clear milestones and outlines of who will be connected when, as OpenMedia has been asking for for years.”
Tribe continued, “Unfortunately, despite the federal government’s claims it supports affordability and competition, there was no mention of these priorities in today’s announcement. This raises a number of concerns that investment will continue to prop up and support Canada’s telecom oligopoly. The Infrastructure Bank, and all other government investments in connectivity, must ensure they are working towards building the Internet that Canadians desperately need: an open, affordable, internet with adequate choice of providers. And that means prioritizing funding for smaller competitive ISPs, local community networks, and Indigenous-led initiatives – not Big Telecom and the status quo that has failed to serve rural and remote Canada for so long. Incumbents’ history of prioritizing only the most profitable households should not be rewarded with additional government funding – that money needs to be put back into the communities that need it most.”
The government’s Universal Broadband Fund was first announced in March 2019; in June 2020, Rural Economic Development Minister Monsef promised applications would open “‘in the coming days”. As of the end of September, applications have still not opened. The CRTC’s Broadband Fund, first announced in 2016, allocated the first $72 million of its funds in August, with 86% of funding going to incumbents.
Over 70,000 members of the OpenMedia community have sent emails or signed petitions this year calling for government support for improved access and affordability to Canada’s Internet. To learn more about OpenMedia’s campaign and our coalition of like-minded civil society groups, visit www.getcanadaconnected.ca.