WELLINGTON COUNTY – Rural internet advocates are cautiously optimistic about the impact recent government funding announcements could have in Wellington County.
This week the federal government announced $1.75 billion in funding for more reliable and fast internet in rural and remote areas.
The province also committed nearly $1 billion, some of which was previously announced, to connect underserved communities.
University of Guelph prof. Helen Hambly Odame who leads the Regional and Rural Broadband (R2B2) project, which advocates for and works for improved internet connectivity for rural areas, called these announcements a step in the right direction but cautioned that this money may be spread thin.
“Broadband connectivity projects, especially fibre optic investments but also on the cellular side of things, they’re quite expensive,” Hambly Odame said. “They’re not cheap, easy or quick projects to build. As a result this money will get eaten up pretty quickly.”
The R2B2 project has been working with the Township of Puslinch by sharing data on connectivity rates.
Puslinch has been working with R2B2 and Clearcable on a business case to justify their applications for government funding.
Recent announcements could be good news for towns, like Puslinch, that are looking to improve their connectivity.
“Could a township like Puslinch get excited about this and encouraged by this? Yes,” Hambly Odame said. “But will it (funding) be spread thin? Absolutely.”
Glenn James, chair of the Puslinch Highspeed Internet Initiative, agrees that more funding would certainly not hurt but is unsure if necessary areas will be granted funding based on current criteria.
James explained that typically for these projects the internet service provider pays for about 75 per cent of the infrastructure and the government kicks in 25 per cent.
He said he thinks this is to spread projects out as much as possible in the country.
However, in his view this isn’t always reasonable cost-wise for places with difficult geography and low population density.
“We have places in Puslinch where that’s probably not going to be feasible,” James said. “Those are the people that need the service pretty badly. They’re the people who are going to be left behind.”
To address this issue, James said the government needs to figure out how to spend this funding quickly and to relax the criteria for funding the projects.
He suggests the government could put in 50 or 75 per cent of the cost of the infrastructure in some cases.
Hambly Odame said the most important next step is to get applications through the review process and approved as soon as possible.
“We do have a sense that things are moving in the right direction in terms of opening up new money to get communities that are unserved or underserved better connectivity,” she said.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com