In the current era of fiscal restraint and program review, one area of infrastructure spending where both the federal and provincial governments are providing financial support is rural high-speed internet. Similar to GO train service from Waterloo Region to Toronto and back, everyone agrees the new investments are necessary.
The business case for expanded broadband service in rural areas of Canada, Ontario and Waterloo Region is relatively concise. Farmers and businesses require the internet for fast connections to customers locally, across Canada and around the world. Many rural residents work in urban centres and when weather conditions and other factors conspire to keep people out of the office, adequate bandwidth is essential to maintaining office productivity levels.
To their collective credit, both the federal and Ontario governments agree in principle with rural Canada and are making progress on closing the gap between requirements and available capacity. The Budget tabled by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau last March sets a target of 95 percent of Canadian homes and businesses having access to the internet at speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps by 2026 and 100 percent by 2030.
Monte McNaugton, the Ontario Minister of Infrastructure who represents a large rural constituency between London and Sarnia, indicated in Chatham recently that collectively federal, provincial and municipal governments in Ontario have allocated $190 million which will subsequently leverage significant investments by private sector providers.
McNaughton has also noted that recent changes in Ontario will start new projects with more competing businesses driving down prices.
As Waterloo Region municipalities and businesses have informed our provincial and federal members of parliament/legislature, broadband issues extend into urban centres as well. When the issue arises for debate at Regional Council, concerns are expressed regarding services in designated areas of the three cities.
This is a massive issue, but fortunately the message is resonating and progress is evident. Rural areas require expanding businesses to generate the tax revenues to support necessary public services such as education and healthcare. In the current global economy, broadband connectivity is the new economic and social imperative.