The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced that it will be awarding $84.4 million in funding to 12 projects to enhance broadband connectivity in underserved rural regions in northern Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. These projects will collectively include laying of around 2,000 km of fiber network cable to benefit 56 communities. The timeline for the projects is yet to be announced but they are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
The money for these projects will be coming from the CRTC’s designated ‘Broadband Fund’. The CRTC made a call-out for applications to communities and municipalities to outline their need for broadband expansion, including how much funding and materials would be required for the project. More than 600 applications were received from across the country, resulting in a total request of $1.5 billion. The CRTC continues to evaluate and announce new projects once they have been approved.
In the current global climate, access to internet outside of urban hubs is important for those under a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. Besides, these expansions will help rural development and setting up of infrastructure in unoccupied lands. This, in turn, may encourage population dispersion that the Canadian government wants.
Canada has an expansive landmass, which makes implementing broadband internet connectivity an expensive endeavor for the country. Concentration of population has made it easier for network providers like Rogers and Bell to access most of the population without having to expand infrastructure to cover large areas. Under 25% of Canada’s landmass has broadband connectivity but it can reach over 90% of the population, as most of the country’s population can be found concentrated in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta. Outside of such areas, internet connectivity is extremely limited, necessitating public investments in infrastructure improvement.
When comparing the country’s rural internet access with that in countries like the US, Canada is at a significant disadvantage due to the lack of internet carriers. Canada’s ‘Big 3’ – Rogers, Bell and TELUS – have a strong monopoly over the country’s wireless market. The US has internet carriers like Broadband Q that target rural areas to close the ‘digital divide’ between rural and urban centers. Canada has limited competition between carriers to trigger an expansion of broadband internet to areas considered “unprofitable”. This causes the need for government organizations to provide funding and resources to unite rural and urban centers in the expansion of broadband internet access.
The need for rural development has become a focus for the Broadband Fund, which has so far committed around $156.5 million to improve connectivity in 107 communities.
For more information about the Broadband Fund projects or on the CRTC, visit crtc.gc.ca.