B.C. and Ottawa investing $830M to expand high-speed internet access

Monte Stewart
March 16, 2022

The federal and B.C. governments are investing $830 million as part of a national program designed to expand high-speed Internet connectivity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities across Canada.

B.C. became the latest province to receive federal money under the $2.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund, which aims to connect 98 percent of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026 and achieve 100-per-cent connectivity by 2030. (Under federal guidelines, only the hardest to reach households may take until 2030.)

The spending is part of what Ottawa calls a suite of federal investments designed to improve high-speed Internet. The connectivity targets were set in 2016 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission after it deemed broadband an essential service.

Plans call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and B.C. Premier John Horcoff’s NDP regime to invest $415 million each. Under Canada’s connectivity strategy, all Canadians are to have access to Internet connection speeds of 50 megabits per second to download data and 10 Mbps to upload content. The federal-B.C. investment aims to connect 115,000 B.C. homes that are still without connectivity.

Program launched in 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government launched the UBF program in 2020. Applications for funding closed a year ago, but many projects have yet to be announced.

Federal Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings said all Internet service provider funding applications will be assessed according to the technology to be used by Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). “Affordability is a key piece of that,” she said.

An ISED spokeswoman told Research Money that projects will be announced across the country in the coming months. According to UBF guidelines, Hutchings will have the final say on approvals.

Not all of the $2.75 billion has been allocated yet, Luka Vujic, Hutchings’ press secretary, told Research Money.

Thus far, he said, Ottawa has completed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on investment partnerships with Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador, while deals with the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have yet to be finalized.

Some provinces and territories, including those which have not signed MOUs, have received approvals and UBF money through the program’s rapid-response funding stream as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid-response stream appropriated up to $5 million for short-term projects to be completed by Nov. 15, 2021. The ISED spokeswoman said Ottawa announced 171 rapid-response projects worth $168.4 million to connect around 178,000 households.

An ISED webpage lists rapid-response projects that have received conditional UBF approval. The ISED spokeswoman said the federal government has announced projects, including those in the rapid-response stream, that will connect more than 900,000 households.

The B.C. contribution includes $289 million recently allocated in the province’s 2022 budget for building Internet infrastructure. B.C. Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare said funding could support fibre, cable, satellite or other types of connections.

“We want to make sure that there’s flexibility in the infrastructure so that we can find ways to serve even the most remote communities, where other infrastructure methods might not be possible,” said B.C. Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare.

Internet access a necessity

Beare said connecting First Nations with high-speed Internet aligns with B.C.’s Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which requires every First Nation in the province to have such services. The province aims to have all Indigenous communities connected by 2027.

She said the Horgan government has invested $190 million in high-speed Internet connectivity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities since taking office in 2017.

“The pandemic has truly shown us now, more than ever, how important it is to have high-speed Internet in your life," said Beare. "From telehealth to online school to connecting virtually with your loved ones, we’ve said it: Internet is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity."

Beare told Research Money that high-speed Internet will be life-changing for communities and people that are currently without it. “There are so many opportunities and doors that can open with high-speed Internet,” she said.

According to the UBF application funding guide, eligible applicants include Canadian for-profit or not-for-profit corporations; provincial, territorial, or municipal entities; Indigenous entities; public-sector bodies; and partnerships, joint-ventures, and consortia.

Robert Phillips, a political executive with the B.C.-based First Nations Leadership Council and First Nations Leadership Summit, said Internet access for First Nations in isolated mountainous, coastal and northern Interior communities benefits everyone because it brings more opportunities to those areas.

“I can’t imagine how many people didn’t have that opportunity because, quite frankly, once you go on a reserve, the number of bars on the cell phone just drop from five to one to sometimes zero,” he said in an interview with Research Money.

During floods and fires that struck B.C. communities last summer, many Indigenous chiefs had to leave their communities to call emergency responders for help, he said.

He added that project developers need to work in partnership with First Nations. “Now we need to look at implementation,” he said.


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.