Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Feds want proposals for rural broadband subsidies

The federal government is asking telecommunications companies to submit proposals for increasing broadband internet access to rural communities. Last February's budget committed $225 million to the project.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced further details of the plan yesterday in Adstock, Quebec -- although most coverage of the press conference focused on his challenge to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to avoid a fall election.

“The jobs of the future will increasingly depend on people ... having consistent and reliable access to broadband services such as distance education, telehealth coverage and new online business opportunities,” a government press release quoted Harper as saying.

The program would see the federal government offering subsidies of up to 50 per cent of the cost of installing new high-speed internet infrastructure to areas that currently do not have broadband service.

Surveys conducted by Industry Canada show that while nearly all urban Canadians can access high speed internet (if they can afford it), 19 per cent of rural households do not have service available.

The department has compiled the surveys, updated last week, into maps of internet access by region. (Dial-up users should be warned that the maps are 1 or 2 megabyte pdf files.)

The federal funding could be applied to equipment, software, or long-term leases of satellite capacity. The federal government would not take any ownership of the infrastructure, nor would it commit to any ongoing funding. Internet service providers are being asked to submit proposals, with the government to select subsidy recipients in December.

According to a backgrounder on the announcement, “the Government will seek proposals balancing lowest federal contribution with availability for maximum number of households.” Other factors that will be considered include the applicant's ability to implement the project quickly and their likelihood of being able to sustain the project over the long term.

The program is supposed to complement existing programs to expand rural broadband access, such as British Columbia's “Connecting Communities” program, a partnership with Telus.

Federal funding for high speed internet to rural communities has been discussed for years, but has had limited impact so far.

As Maclean's blogger Paul Wells reminds readers, rural broadband was a pet project of former Liberal cabinet minister Brian Tobin:

The finance minister, fellow by the name of Martin, didn’t want to put the money in the budget. Tobin put word around town that he was going higher than Martin: he was going straight to Eddie Goldenberg, damn it. By now we were into a post-9/11 period and Tobin actually gave a speech or two linking the courage of the fire crews at Ground Zero to the courage Canada must show by connecting rural Canadians to high-speed internet. They rushed in despite the risk. We too must rush in. Blah blah blah. It was a strange time. You have to understand.

Anyway, the budget comes out, and instead of a quick billion for high-speed internet, Martin announces $35 million a year for three years, starting in three years [the Broadband for Rural and Northern Development Pilot Program]. A consummate wet firecracker.

To date, the primary focus of federal investment in internet infrastructure has been First Nations communities, and that program has not been without problems and delays.

During last fall's election campaign, the federal Conservatives promised that “starting in 2010-11 at the latest” they would contribute $100 million per year “towards the completion of Canada’s broadband network.” The federal budget sped up implementation of the plan, but only allocated $225 million over three years ($75 million per year).

The Conservative party plan was to operate the program through PPP (Public Private Partnerships) Canada Inc., a federal Crown corporation created last year. However, PPP Canada was not mentioned in the details released yesterday.

Another change from the Conservative election platform is that the government will fund up to one half of the infrastructure cost, instead of only one third.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus