Students sit on a cold bench outside a school to connect to Wi-Fi to download coursework.
A couple working from home are unable to send a single file because their internet connection is too weak, while a small-business owner can’t sell products online because of poor internet speeds.
These stories are all too common in some of Ontario’s communities – often in rural, remote and Northern areas – highlighting a lack of reliable broadband and a digital divide resulting in unequal access to education, employment, economic opportunity and public services.
In response, the provincial government announced through the 2021 Budget an additional $2.8 billion to ensure all Ontarians have access to reliable broadband by the end of 2025. The commitment brings the province’s total broadband investment to nearly $4 billion over six years.
It’s the largest single investment in broadband, in any province, by any administration in Canadian history, according to the Ford government.
“Our government is going all-in on broadband to help achieve 100 per cent access for the first time in Ontario’s history,” said Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott. “Our transformative investment will help ensure no one in Ontario is left behind when it comes to access.”
The expenditure comes just as the Ontario legislature passes Bill 257, which will help connect more communities to reliable broadband by reducing red tape and costs charged to providers who attach broadband wirelines to existing utility poles. Ontario internet and telecommunications service providers face the highest hydro utility pole attachment rates in Canada.
The legislation will also help provide faster access to these poles and to municipal rights of way to extend the reach of broadband, according to the government.
As many as 700,000 households in Ontario lack access to adequate broadband speeds or have no internet connection at all, a situation the Bill intends to address.
Although telecommunications is a federally regulated sector, Minister Scott said the province is stepping up its role.
“As a resident of rural Eastern Ontario, I know how frustrating it can be to not have reliable broadband,” said Scott. “That’s why we decided we weren’t going to wait any longer for anyone else to fill the gaps. Ontario is putting people first.”
The province’s latest commitment follows previous investments in various programs and initiatives to improve connectivity across Ontario, including $300 million to improve broadband in unserved and underserved communities.
In Eastern Ontario, the province is investing in an Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) project by paying Rogers Communications to improve the reach and quality of cell phone service by building 300 new towers across the region. Rogers will invest $148 million in the project. The province and federal government will kick in $142 million, while local municipalities will invest $10 million.
The government also points to several funding initiatives to help bring reliable broadband to Northern towns and First Nation communities.
“We need to ensure the people of Ontario can thrive in this increasingly digital world,” said Minister Scott. “This investment will make a real and positive difference in people’s lives, and I’m excited that we’re moving towards a stronger, more connected Ontario that will benefit all of us today and for generations to come.”