By Richard Bell
When people talk about supporting economic development on the Eastern Shore, one of the major structural obstacles has been the lack of reliable high-speed Internet service. Across the country, more than two million Canadians don’t have good Internet connections, especially in rural areas like the shore.
As Robert Moser, chair of the Sheet Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs, explained in an interview, “Rural areas like ours are losing residents and businesses and home sales because people can’t get the service they need for business and personal use.” Moser said the Chamber had applied almost two years ago for a $1 million grant from the federal Connect to Innovate program, but was turned down.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been campaigning for years for a massive federal investment to close this gap, $400 million a year for the next 10 years in FCM’s most recent request.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced the new budget that exceeds the FCM’s suggestion, promising a total of $5 billion to $6 billion over the next 10 years. The goal, according to the budget, sets “a national target, in which 95 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses will have access to internet speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030, no matter where they are located in the country.”
The budget includes funds for encouraging greater investments in rural high-speed Internet from the private sector, new investments in the “Connect to Innovate” program, and the creation of a new “Universal Broadband Fund” (UBF) for extending “backbone” infrastructure to underserved communities, including “last-mile” connections to individual homes and business. The UBF will also fund a new “low-latency Low Earth Orbit satellite capacity” to reach even very remote homes and communities.
Moser said that he welcomed the news of additional funding, but that as is so often true of election year budgets, there’s a nice-sounding promise before the election, and funding to come afterwards. “The budget says all Canadians will have access eleven years from now, but a lot can happen between now and then.”
The most recent improvements in connectivity along the Shore took place several years ago in the Watts Section area. “The areas they covered have excellent service, the best service in the area,” Moser said. “But the new service only reached a small number of people. All of the places around and in between are still waiting.”