GUELPH – Broadband internet service has always been a problem in rural communities and the pandemic has pushed it to front of the line.
And it’s not strictly a rural problem, says Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield.
Like many people, the Guelph MP is working from home most days and he spends a great deal of his day on Zoom meetings.
And even though his Guelph home is well served with internet service, he’s been bumped from online meetings more than once.
As physical distancing is the order of the day, schools, universities, businesses and even personal socializing have all moved online, serving to compound the problem.
The federal Liberal government announced $750 million for the Universal Broadband Fund on Nov. 9.
This is a top-up to the $1 billion announced in 2019 for the 2020 budget, with a goal of connecting 98 per cent of Canadians to high speed internet by 2026 and 100% by 2030.
This funding will be funneled through various channels across the country but in southern Ontario, some federal and provincial funding goes through Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that supports the expansion of broadband infrastructure.
It was formed by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to help prioritize projects and distribute federal, provincial, and private investment funds in a fair and equitable way.
Longfield said he became more familiar with internet issues in Ontario when he sat on the industry committee. He said SWIFT has been working with a University of Guelph research team R2B2 to determine projects that are “shovel ready” and to set priorities for others.
Barrier to education
Longfield said he’s heard from students complaining that lack of internet is becoming a barrier to education.
“All of us who work remotely need better broadband. We need more funding for fast projects,” he said in an interview on Nov. 26.
“It’s expensive, but if we don’t invest every year, we can fall behind quickly.”
Longfield defended the government’s response to the pandemic, noting emergency financial packages – for businesses, individuals and healthcare – while expensive, have been essential to allow people to follow public health restrictions and still pay their bills.
“Low interest rates have allowed us to do this,” Longfield said. “Even though debt is piling up, the interest rates are allowing for it. And it’s absolutely essential.”
Four main projects totalling $12,677,853 have been approved for Wellington County:
- from Wallenstein to Arthur: 64.2km of “fibre road” to be laid; passes 275 premises; completion date December 2020;
- Ariss to Inverhaugh: 34.2km of fibre road; passes 674 premises; to be completed by September 2021;
- Eden Mills: 17.6km of fibre road; passes 283 premises; completed by August 2021; and
- Rockwood to Belwood: 102.5km of fibre road; passes 1,777 premises; completion by December 2021.