Spend­ing on the dig­i­tal high­way

Gov­ern­ments, pri­vate groups pony up $40 mil­lion to im­prove high-speed in­ter­net in ru­ral N.L.

The Compass - - Sports - BY KENN OLIVER kenn.oliver@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: ken­no­liver79

“Our goal is to have ac­cess to broad­band in­ter­net for every sin­gle per­son.”

- Dwight Ball

The fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments teamed up for an in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing an­nounce­ment of a dif­fer­ent sort Jan. 2.

Ot­tawa and the prov­ince, along with pri­vate part­ners in in­dus­try, com­mu­nity and in­dige­nous groups, an­nounced just shy of $40 mil­lion in fund­ing for 31 projects to im­prove high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess to more than 1,500 house­holds in 70 com­mu­ni­ties through­out New­found­land and Labrador.

Pre­mier Dwight Ball says the work, once com­pleted, will al­low for 99 per cent of the prov­ince’s pop­u­la­tion to be cov­ered by broad­band ser­vice.

“The one per cent of those peo­ple, they’re the most ex­pen­sive ones to get to, but I will tell you our goal is to have ac­cess to broad­band in­ter­net for every sin­gle per­son,” he said.

Rather than di­vulge which com­mu­ni­ties would ben­e­fit from the im­prove­ments, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Sea­mus O’Re­gan said that news would be an­nounced by the re­gions’ re­spec­tive MPs in the com­ing days.

That said, the pre­mier did in­di­cate In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Labrador are among those that will see im­prove­ments.

“There’s ar­eas in Labrador where broad­band is some­thing that they read about in a magazine, they read about it in a book. What we want to be able to al­low them to do is be able read about the op­por­tu­ni­ties on­line with speeds that are func­tional.”

The bulk of the fund­ing — $24.78 mil­lion — is com­ing from the fed­eral govern­ment’s Con­nect to In­no­vate pro­gram that aims to pro­vide un­der­ser­viced com­mu­ni­ties with in­ter­net ac­cess speeds of five megabits per sec­ond or more by build­ing a dig­i­tal back­bone of in­fra­struc­ture.

It also aims to fund what Ot­tawa is call­ing “last-mile con­nec­tions to house­holds that don’t have in­ter­net speeds of at least five megabits per sec­ond.

“These projects are go­ing to open up these com­mu­ni­ties to new op­por­tu­ni­ties, giv­ing busi­nesses the abil­ity to reach new cus­tomers, giv­ing pa­tients the abil­ity to ac­cess telemedicine ser­vices and giv­ing stu­dents the abil­ity to ex­plore their in­ter­ests and prob­a­bly play a lit­tle mul­ti­player,” O’Re­gan said.

“This is a real in­vest­ment in what we call the new wharf, the new road. This is how busi­nesses get prod­uct to mar­ket. This is a real op­por­tu­nity for many com­mu­ni­ties in this prov­ince and for busi­nesses that are in them.”

The At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­nity Agency chipped in $2.1 mil­lion, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment had the small­est con­tri­bu­tion at $1.57 mil­lion, and $11.52 is com­ing from in­dus­try, as­so­ci­a­tions and in­dige­nous groups.

Work is ex­pected to start over the sum­mer, but nei­ther side was will­ing to dis­cuss when it would be com­pleted.

“We’re go­ing to ag­gres­sively get this out there,” the pre­mier said. “We need to get this done as quickly as pos­si­ble. Peo­ple have been wait­ing a long time for broad­band and the type of func­tional broad­band that’s re­quired.”

The ap­pli­ca­tion process for ten­ders is al­ready closed, but Bell and Eastlink, two of the three ma­jor in­ter­net ser­vice providers in the prov­ince, are in­volved.

JOE GIBBONS/THE TELE­GRAM

St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Sea­mus O’Re­gan speaks at The Rooms Jan. 2 dur­ing an an­nounce­ment of a fed­eral-pro­vin­cial ex­pen­di­ture of $28.45 mil­lion for high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess in the prov­ince.

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