Three years ago, COVID-19 lockdowns forced millions of Canadians to work, learn and access vital services like telemedicine from home. While the transition was easy for those in urban areas with access to reliable, high-speed internet, those living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities couldn’t keep up. Rural communities have struggled with accessing high-speed internet for decadeslarge telcoscouldn’t justify the expense of expanding their infrastructure in sparsely populated regions.
The COVID-19 pandemic finally highlighted the plight of rural Canadian communities, and governments began to take action. In 2020, the Government of Canada launched theUniversal Broadband Fund to help connect every Canadian by 2030, and provinces and territories began to ramp up their broadband investments.
In addition tofederally funded projects , each province and territory has a unique approach to connecting unserved or underserved residents. The strategies aim to provide a minimum speed of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload via fiber to the home (FTTH), low-earth orbit satellite or fixed wireless access (FWA), depending on the location. The plans have shifted over the years, so let’s look at where they stand today.
Alberta: In 2022, the Government of Alberta updated theAlberta Broadband Strategyto connect all Albertans by the end of the 2026/2027 fiscal year. Total public investment has increased to $780 million, with $390 million committed by the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada. The $36 million Alberta Broadband Fund allowed communities and ISPs to apply for funding to build infrastructure.
British Columbia: In 2022, the Government of British Columbia and the Federal Government committed $830 million to fund high-speed internet service in underserved parts of the province through theConnecting Communities BCprogram by 2027. Municipal and Indigenous governments, in addition to private for-profit and non-profit organizations, were eligible for funding.
Manitoba: In May 2021, after a competitive tender process, theGovernment of Manitoba partnered with a private ISPto connect more than 125,000 unserved or underserved Manitobans to high-speed internet.
New Brunswick: theThe Government of New Brunswick partnered with a private ISPwithout a competitive tender process to expand internet infrastructure in the province to connect97% of households through a total of $161 million in joint investmentsby the ISP and the province. In 2022 the provincial government announced asatellite rebate programto help connect homes not covered by previous investments.
Newfoundland and Labrador: In 2021, theGovernment of Newfoundland and Labradorallocated $25 to build internet infrastructure for their connectivity strategy. In 2022 The Government of Canada announced a $136 million investment to connect all households in the province to high-speed internet. The plan focuses on partnerships between ISPs, federal, municipal, Indigenous governments, and other stakeholders to connect the region by 2024.
Northwest Territories: Launched in 2020,Every Community Projectis a three-year plan to connect 10,000 homes in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The project is funded by a $62.5 million investment from the federal Government along with investment from an ISP. The Government of the NWT’sEmerging Strongerstrategy outlines a plan to lobby the federal government for policy changes and financial investment to improve broadband access in the territory.
Nova Scotia: The Government of Nova Scotia’sInternet for Nova Scotia Initiativeaims to connect the province by the end of 2023. The province has invested $164.7 million in the Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust. An additional $137.5M came from other funders, including $118.5M from the private sector. In 2022 the province invested $8.5 million in asatellite rebate program. Both municipalities and ISPs have received funding through the trust.
Nunavut: theKivalliq Hydro-Fibre Linkwill bring high-speed fiber internet to the territory for the first time. Jointly funded with $151.2 million from the Government of Canada and $50.4 million from the Government of Nunavut, the project will deliver fiber services to the Kivalliq region of Nunavut by 2025.
ont: The Government of Ontario has committed $4 billion throughUp to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Planwhich aims to connect the entire province by 2025. In 2020 the province launched theImproving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON)program, inviting ISPs, municipalities, Indigenous communities, and non-profits to apply for funding.
Prince Edward Island: The Government of PEI launched itsBroadband Connectivity Strategyin 2021 to connect 95% of residents by June 2023 and the entire province by 2025. The provincial government has committed $2 million per year to thePEI Broadband Fund, which contributes up to 50% of the costs of broadband infrastructure to eligible ISPs, businesses, and communities. Additionally, the province launched thePEI Broadband Fund for Residentswhich provides up to $5,000 to connect a civic address in an area without access to an ISP.
Québec: Launched in 2021,Canada-Quebec Operation High Speedwas a joint investment of $826.3 million from the provincial and federal governments with additional private funding from ISPs to connect all of Quebec to high-speed internet by September 2022. In August 2022, the Government of Quebecannounced they met the goal one month ahead of schedule. However, 70,000 residents still needed the FTTH connection they were promised and were provided with government-subsidized internet service via a private LEO satellite internet provider.
Saskatchewan: The provincially owned telecom provider SaskTel launched theRural Fiber Initiativein 2020. SaskTel will spend $200 million to expand its fiber network to 110,000 residents and businesses in more than 130 rural communities by 2025.
Yukon: Launched in 2020,Every Community Projectis a three-year plan to connect 10,000 homes in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The project is funded by a $62.5 million investment from the federal government and private investment from an ISP. In 2022, the ISP partnered with13 First Nations communitiesin the Yukon to deliver FTTH service.
As you can see, each province and territories strategy is as unique as its population and landscape. There is no one-size fits all solution to connect every Canadian to Canada’s high-speed internet. These strategies will likely continue to evolve as new technologies emerge and project delays arise.
Opportunities for Rural Canada
While any internet connection is better than none, plans that rely heavily on investment from large telcos may not level the playing field for rural and urban Canadians. At the onset of the pandemic, there was pressure on the networks of large telcos as millions of Canadians to begin working and learning from home and accessing vital services such as telemedicine. inMarch 2020, urban Canadians’ median average download speed was 26.16 compared to 5.42 for their rural counterparts. By July, the median download speed for urban areas had nearly doubled to 51.54 Mbps. In rural areas, it continued to speak at 5.62 Mbps. Despite the need for higher speeds in rural areas, large telcos focused their investments on markets with the highest number of customers.
Large telcos have along history of neglecting rural communities, and with so much funding available, it’s the perfect time for municipalities to adopt a community broadband network model. Under this model,multiple ISPs can sell sservice packages on the network, giving customers more choice in providers and access to more competitive pricing. Owned by the municipality, a community broadband network allowsrevenue to be reinvested in their communityrather than diverted to urban areas where large telcos are headquartered.
Transform Your Community
On the path to connecting every Canadian to high-speed internet, there’s an opportunity to fundamentally alter Canada’s telecommunications landscape. It may seem daunting, but ROCK Networks is here to help. We work with municipalities to develop a solution to meet their unique needs and connect 100% of residents. Contact us today to get started.
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