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Government’s Universal Broadband Fund Finally Announced

Today the Government of Canada announced the opening of applications for the $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). First announced in March 2019, the UBF has been a long-awaited funding mechanism to help bridge the digital divide in Canada, especially in rural and remote areas. Funds will support projects that provide Internet access at the CRTC’s basic service objective of 50/10 Mbps or higher.

The announcement comes after months of delays, but provides a much-needed boost to Canada’s digital infrastructure. The revised plan increases government funding from $1 billion to $1.75 billion, and shifts forward buildout targets from 95% of Canadian households connected by 2026 to 98%. A fast track fund of $150 million will be made available for projects that can be completed by November 2021.

“For decades, Canada’s digital divide has been ignored, with the country’s connectivity strategy left in the hands of Big Telecom. Communities that are densely populated enough to be profitable for Big Telecom have seen significant investment, while rural and remote areas have remained underserved or disconnected entirely. But the Internet is not a luxury – it should be an essential service, as Minister Monsef said today. Our government has a responsibility to ensure that every person has reliable, high-speed connectivity, regardless of where they live,” said OpenMedia digital campaigner Erin Knight.

Knight continued, “While long overdue, it’s great to see the Internet finally getting the attention it deserves after years of outcry from Canadians. It looks like the government is finally moving forward on their promises, and mobilizing some rapid responses given how long people have been waiting. Seeing shovels in the ground for some communities in the next year is particularly welcome news. But while the announcement of some support for smaller community applicants is encouraging, these kinds of local initiatives need to be very actively prioritized to address the underlying dysfunction of our overall telecommunications market in Canada.”

OpenMedia remains concerned that without explicit prioritization of local and Indigenous-led community buildout projects, the majority of funds will benefit Big Telecom, further entrenching the oligopolistic market that has served Canadians poorly for decades. A crucial part of the government’s rollout to pay attention to will be their “Pathfinder” services – phone and email support intended to facilitate applications by local communities. The seriousness of that supporting effort will help determine the long term impact of UBF’s deployment on Canada’s Internet.

Key Details of Today’s Announcement:

The government has maintained its previous target of 100% universal connectivity by 2030, but has increased the goal for 2026 from 95% connectivity to 98%.

There is a rapid response stream that will distribute $150M funding to shovel-ready projects that can be completed by November 2021.

Application support has been made available for non-traditional funding applicants like municipalities and Indigenous communities, although that does not guarantee any prioritization of their applications.

The first round of successful applicants is expected to be announced in early 2021.

Background Context:

1 in 10 Canadian households does not have a home Internet connection.

Currently the CRTC reports that 86.5% of Canadian households have access to the basic service objectives of 50/10Mbps; just 41% of Canadian rural households have 50/10 access. [source]

The 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.” Today’s announcement comes over 150 days later. OpenMedia’s community will be monitoring the government’s progress towards its new targets closely, and holding the government to account if progress stalls.

This year, over 75,000 members of the OpenMedia community have called on the federal government to act on bringing affordable, quality Internet to everyone in Canada. To learn more about OpenMedia’s campaign and our coalition of like-minded civil society groups, visit www.getcanadaconnected.ca.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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