After several pandemic-related delays, the Liberal government said it is now on track to connect 98% of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026.
This announcement comes as more Canadians find themselves living online while working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several cabinet ministers held a press conference in Ottawa to launch a $ 1.75 billion universal broadband fund – a program announced in the federal government’s 2019 budget and was featured in the election campaign as well as highlighted in the September throne speech. Most of the money was announced in last year’s budget.
Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef told reporters: “We are ready in March with the new Global Broadband Fund but then the pandemic comes.”
The prime minister said the government is now on its way to connecting 98% of Canadians to the high-speed internet by 2026 – up from the 95% benchmark promised earlier – and will connect the rest by 2030.
“These are ambitious targets and we are ready to meet them,” Trudeau said.
About $150 million from the fund will be freed up to fund projects aimed at getting communities connected by next fall.
Senior officials with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis until January 15, 2021, to have projects completed by mid-November, 2021.
The prime minister said the government had also reached a 600 million agreement with Telesat on satellite capabilities to improve broadband service in remote and northern regions.
Opposition Conservatives criticized the government’s schedule, arguing Canadians need better access to the Internet now than ever.
Senator John Nater, Conservatives critic of rural economic development, said: “This is completely unacceptable and is a slap in the face of nearly a million Canadians who don’t have internet access at home, reliable mobile phone signals are even harder to see.
“For many months, the Conservative Party has been demanding specific action to get Canadians connected. We will continue to campaign to lower mobile phone prices and improve broadband internet services so that people can stay connected. People living in rural and remote areas have consistent access to these essential services. “
Following this morning’s announcement was a technical meeting for reporters on how the program works.
CRTC declared broadband internet a basic telecommunications service in 2016. But data shows that only 40.8% of rural Canadian households can access with download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and 10 Mbps upload speed.
The government says those speeds will allow Canadians to work and study online and access services remotely.
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