Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef says the government will be opening its $1.7 billion Universal Broadband Fund to applications in the coming days.
Monsef made the announcement at ‘Canada’s Rural and Remote Broadband Conference’ on June 8th. She outlined that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the government to reconsider its timelines and has added greater urgency towards getting rural Canadians connected to high-speed internet.
“In the coming days the government of Canada will be opening the Universal Broadband Fund’s call for applications. We are counting on our partnerships with municipalities, Indigenous communities, small ISPs and the bigger telcos to work together to connect every Canadian to this essential service,” she said.
The Universal Broadband Fund will support broadband projects across the country and is designed to meet the unique needs of rural and remote communities. The fund is meant to help the government meet its target of connecting 100 percent of Canadians to 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload speeds by 2030.
Monsef noted that prior to COVID-19, the government was well poised to connect every Canadian to these speeds by 2030, but says the current circumstances have added urgency towards accelerating access to this essential service.
The minister stated that $6 billion has been set aside and that close to a million households were already underway to receive high-speed access prior to the pandemic.
She states that the proposals sent in for the Universal Broadband Fund will help the government connect Canadians to this essential service earlier than the 2030 timeline.
Monsef also says that the previous “hexagon” model for mapping served and underserved areas is no longer being used. For instance, the previous maps depicted the availability of broadband internet access service at or above target speeds within hexagon areas of 25 square kilometres.
An entire hexagon was classified as “served” if at least one household had access to the target speeds in that hexagon. The minister says that the current maps that are being used are more precise and will ensure that no Canadians are left behind.
Monsef outlines that this essential service is even more important now due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says whether it’s for telework, telehealth or staying in touch with loved ones, access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury.
She stated that the government is getting the motivation to accelerate plans after hearing from people who are struggling to stay connected amid the pandemic. Monsef said whether its elders in long-term care homes or parents and kids working from home, Canadians’ access to services should not depend on where they live in the country.
“Canada has the potential to come out of this pandemic even stronger than it was before. We believe that access to high-speed internet is an important part of the solution, and we believe that we can get there,” she said.