On July 29, the federal and provincial governments announced an agreement to bring high speed Internet to almost 280,000 rural households in Ontario, approximately 90,000 of those in eastern Ontario by the end of 2025. However, this infusion of funding by both levels of government effectively ended EORN’s push to procure funding and complete their own Gig project in eastern Ontario. Minister Kinga Surma, Ontario’s minister of Infrastructure and Warden Rick Phillips, the warden of Hastings County, the reeve of Tyendinaga and an Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus representative provide their comments on this funding announcement to expand high-speed Internet access across Ontario.
In addition to the over $1.2 billion in funding provided by the Ontario and Canadian governments to expand high-speed Internet access in Ontario, Infrastructure Ontario is doing a new procurement process starting this summer that will enable Internet Service Providers to bid in a transparent and competitive manner for provincial subsidies through a series of reverse auctions for specific underserved areas in the province.
Hayley Cooper is the press secretary to Minister Surma and relayed a statement from the minister on the new funding announcement for Internet across Ontario and Canada. She says that Ontario will continue to engage with all partners, including EORN, on how they can further enrich those partnerships to bring better connectivity to more people faster.
“We have already partnered with EORN to leverage more than $300 million to improve cellular and mobile Internet in eastern Ontario. The provincial and federal governments have each committed $71 million to support the EORN cell gap project. Our priority is to ensure access to reliable high-speed Internet for every home and business. This means ensuring that everyone has access to high-speed Internet of 50 megabytes to download and 10 megabytes to upload. To that end, our government’s 2021 budget commits an historic new investment of $2.8 billion in broadband infrastructure,” she says.
Surma says that combined with prior commitments, the new funding announced in the 2021 budget increases Ontario’s overall investment in high-speed Internet to nearly $4 billion to ensure that every region of the province has access to high-speed Internet by the end of 2025. She also said that in July, they announced that Ontario along with the federal government are investing over $1.2 billion in 58 new projects throughout the province’s Improving Connectivity for Ontario program and the federal Universal Broadband Fund.
“This includes several regional-scale projects across eastern Ontario that will bring fast, reliable Internet to homes and businesses. A significant proportion of areas currently underserved in this region will benefit from this historic partnership with Canada,” she says.
EORN is currently working on its Cell Gap Project, to improve the coverage and capacity of the region’s cellular networks. In a partnership with the federal and provincial governments (who each contributed $71 million) and Rogers Communications (who contributed over $150 million) plus $10 million from all members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and most municipalities within the EOWC, the grand total of funding for this initiative to improve cell service is over $300 million.
EORN had initially been seeking $200 million from each level of government to move ahead with its Gig project, to bring high speed Internet to over 550,000 households in eastern Ontario, in a $1.2 billion public/private partnership.
While EORN’s original plans for high-speed Internet access in eastern Ontario won’t be funded, and Warden Phillips says that as part of EORN’s board of directors he was disappointed in that, he wanted to congratulate both Canada and Ontario on being able to make these major investments.
“We’ve worked hard over the past 12 years to fight for this type of project, so we’re happy that we’re involved,” he says.
Phillips said that the federal and provincial governments had told them that they intend to cover every household in Ontario including eastern Ontario.
“We’ll be monitoring the progress of both the governments to make sure the right amount of investment is made in our region. As a member of EORN and elected by the warden’s caucus I represent Hastings County and all of eastern Ontario, and I want to ensure that rural areas would not be forgotten again. We want the entire region covered, not just the major or medium population areas. We want all of eastern Ontario, including every rural household to be covered and we’ll monitor the government on that and assist them in whatever way we can,” he says.
Phillips emphasizes that access to high-speed Internet is extremely important, especially over the past year and a half with COVID-19, whether it be medical, educational, working from home or for cottagers that have moved up to the area full-time and need access to work from home; he says they need the tools.
“It was never a matter of who provided it, just that it got provided and we worked hard to make sure that that funding has become available and we congratulate Ontario and Canada for making that commitment to connect 100 per cent of the households within the province,” he says.
Phillips says that the one gig of speed that EORN had put forward was possible and achievable and that it would have provided updated high-speed Internet for years to come. He wants to see how both levels of government move forward on this and reiterated that they don’t want to settle for any less than high-speed Internet and don’t want a divide between the urban and rural areas in eastern Ontario and across the province.
“We’re all here to do the right thing for everyone. Our county is a great place to live and our member municipalities serve us all well,” he says. “We’re ready and willing to work with our private sector, our federal and provincial governments and whomever else will help us provide this level of service we need.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times