Ontario Improving Broadband and Cell Service for Rural Communities

As Ontario safely and gradually begins to reopen, the provincial government is investing $150 million in reliable broadband and cellular service. This funding will help create even more economic and educational opportunities in rural, remote and underserved areas of the province. This is part of the province’s $315 million initiative called Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.

Today’s announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Laurie Scott, Minister of Infrastructure, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“As we carefully restart the economic engine of Canada, every region and every community will play a role in bringing jobs and prosperity back to our province,” said Premier Ford. “By investing in reliable broadband and cellular service, we are helping to create greater opportunity for our families, farmers and small business owners in rural and remote areas of this great province.”

The new Improving Connectivity in Ontario, or ICON, program, when leveraged, has the potential to result in an investment of up to $500 million in total partner funding to improve connectivity in underserved and unserved areas. Applicants, including telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits, will be invited to submit innovative proposals and lend their investment, expertise and experience to improve connectivity in communities across Ontario. The province will fund a portion of each approved project.

“By doing their part and staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the people of Ontario have demonstrated the need to be connected to learn, work, and run their businesses,” said Minister Scott. “It appears that functioning remotely will continue to be a regular way of life for many in this new environment, and fast reliable Internet will be critical. The ICON program is an important step towards bridging the digital divide in Ontario.”

Access to broadband is a core component of the province’s Learn at Home plan. Reliable Internet, particularly in rural and regional areas, is essential to supporting students’ success in school. The provincial government recently called on the federal government to take immediate action to improve Internet connectivity for Ontario students.

As many as 12 per cent of households in Ontario ― mostly in rural, remote or Northern areas ― are underserved or unserved, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

“Access to high-speed Internet is foundational to our young people’s success in learning, working, and innovating, today and into the future,” said Minister Lecce. “Our government is taking action by connecting all schools to broadband, starting with high schools this September 2020 and elementary schools by September 2021. It is also why we are calling on the federal government to step up their investment to connect the next generation of thinkers and workers to the modern and digital economy.”

The ICON program is one of several important initiatives underway to expand access to mobile broadband and high-speed Internet services. Over the past several months, Ontario has partnered with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) to leverage $213 million to improve access in Eastern Ontario.

As part of a $190 million project to bring high-speed Internet to thousands of homes and businesses throughout Southwestern Ontario, the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) has awarded contracts in Lambton, Wellington and Norfolk counties.

Ontario has also invested in initiatives to improve connectivity in Northern Ontario, such as a project that will connect five remote Matawa-member First Nation communities, and investments in broadband projects through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and the Next Generation Network Program.

Additional Resources

Broadband and cellular projects and investments

Learn more about other broadband and cellular projects and investments happening now across Ontario:

Eastern Ontario Regional Network

Rural communities in eastern Ontario are closer to getting complete cellular coverage and improved mobile broadband.

The Province is partnering with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) as they leverage $213 million in funding to improve access to cellular and mobile broadband in Eastern Ontario.

The project will help rural communities take part in the digital economy, create jobs and improve public safety.

Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology

The Province is investing in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario

In total, the project will invest more than $190 million to expand broadband, including funding from federal, provincial and municipal governments. As a first step, SWIFT Inc. awarded contracts to bring high-speed internet to thousands of homes and businesses in Lambton, Wellington and Norfolk counties. More contracts are expected to be awarded for additional counties across Southwestern Ontario.

Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation

The Province, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), is investing in projects that support the expansion of broadband in Northern Ontario.

This, for example, includes an investment to help increase broadband access and affordability for more than 600 residents living in the Mishkeegogamang Ojibway Nation community.

These investments benefit homes and businesses as well as health, educational and community centres by building safer, connected communities.

Matawa broadband project

Ontario has invested $30 million in the Matawa broadband project, which will connect five remote Matawa-member First Nation communities to fast, reliable and affordable Internet service and benefit more than 670 homes and institutions, including schools, airports, band offices, health offices and police stations.

The project will improve quality of life and create vibrant communities by connecting families, driving economic growth and expanding access to education and skills training.

Next Generation Network Program

Ontario has committed $63.3 million over five years to the Next Generation Network Program, a partnership between the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN) and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

One of the pilot projects is bringing high-performance broadband access to 200 homes in Parry Sound and Carling Township. More projects are planned in the future.

These innovative projects demonstrate and validate that new technology solutions that can be applied in other rural and northern Ontario communities.

ENCQOR Initiative

Ontario is helping to ensure the province has access to the best next-generation technologies. The Province has committed $66.7 million over five years to build the world’s first pre-commercial 5G wireless network for open innovation through the Evolution of Networked Services through the Corridor in Quebec and Ontario for Research and Innovation (ENCQOR) initiative.

This will help us develop the 5G applications of the future – the key to making the digital economy a reality.

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