The State of Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Broadband Funding
Three years ago, COVID-19 lockdowns forced millions of Canadians to work, learn and access vital services like telemedicine from home. While the transition was easy for those in urban areas with access to reliable, high-speed internet, those living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities couldn’t keep up. Rural communities have struggled with accessing high-speed internet for decades as large telcos couldn’t justify the expense of expanding their infrastructure in sparsely populated regions.
The COVID-19 pandemic finally spotlighted the plight of rural Canadian communities, and governments began to take action. In 2020, the Government of Canada launched the Universal Broadband Fund to help connect every Canadian by 2030, and provinces and territories began to ramp up their broadband investments.
In addition to federally funded projects, each province and territory has a unique approach to connecting unserved or underserved residents. The strategies aim to provide a minimum speed of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload via fibre to the home (FTTH), low-earth orbit satellite or fixed wireless access (FWA), depending on the location. The plans have shifted over the years, so let’s look at where they stand today.
Alberta: In 2022, the Government of Alberta updated the Alberta Broadband Strategy to connect all Albertans by the end of the 2026/2027 fiscal year. Total public investment has increased to $780 million, with $390 million committed by the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada. The $36 million Alberta Broadband Fund allowed communities and ISPs to apply for funding to build infrastructure.
British Columbia: In 2022, the Government of British Columbia and the Federal Government committed $830 million to fund high-speed internet service in underserved parts of the province through the Connecting Communities BC program by 2027. Municipal and Indigenous governments, in addition to private for-profit and non-profit organizations, were eligible for funding.
Manitoba: In May 2021, after a competitive tender process, the Government of Manitoba partnered with a private ISP to connect more than 125,000 unserved or underserved Manitobans to high-speed internet.
New Brunswick: The Government of New Brunswick partnered with a private ISP without a competitive tender process to expand internet infrastructure in the province to connect 97% of households through a total of $161 million in joint investments by the ISP and the province. In 2022 the provincial government announced a satellite rebate program to help connect homes not covered by previous investments.
Newfoundland and Labrador: In 2021, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador allocated $25 to build internet infrastructure for their connectivity strategy. In 2022 The Government of Canada announced a $136 million investment to connect all households in the province to high-speed internet. The plan focuses on partnerships between ISPs, federal, municipal, Indigenous governments, and other stakeholders to connect the region by 2024.
Northwest Territories: Launched in 2020, Every Community Project is a three-year plan to connect 10,000 homes in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The project is funded by a $62.5 million investment from the federal Government along with investment from an ISP. The Government of the NWT’s Emerging Stronger strategy outlines a plan to lobby the federal government for policy changes and financial investment to improve broadband access in the territory.
Nova Scotia: The Government of Nova Scotia’s Internet for Nova Scotia Initiative aims to connect the province by the end of 2023. The province has invested $164.7 million in the Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust. An additional $137.5M from came other funders, including $118.5M from the private sector. In 2022 the province invested $8.5 million in a satellite rebate program. Both municipalities and ISPs have received funding through the trust.
Nunavut: The Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link will bring high-speed fibre internet to the territory for the first time. Jointly funded with $151.2 million from the Government of Canada and $50.4 million from the Government of Nunavut, the project will deliver fibre service to the Kivalliq region of Nunavut by 2025.
Ontario: The Government of Ontario has committed $4 billion through Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan, which aims to connect the entire province by 2025. In 2020 the province launched the Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program, inviting ISPs, municipalities, Indigenous communities, and non-profits to apply for funding.
Prince Edward Island: The Government of PEI launched its Broadband Connectivity Strategy in 2021 to connect 95% of residents by June 2023 and the entire province by 2025. The provincial government has committed $2 million per year to the PEI Broadband Fund, which contributes up to 50% of the costs of broadband infrastructure to eligible ISPs, businesses, and communities. Additionally, the province launched the PEI Broadband Fund for Residents, which provides up to $5,000 to connect a civic address in an area without access to an ISP.
Quebec: Launched in 2021, Canada-Quebec Operation High-Speed was a joint investment of $826.3 million from the provincial and federal governments with additional private funding from ISPs to connect all of Quebec to high-speed internet by September 2022. In August 2022, the Government of Quebec announced they met the goal one month ahead of schedule. However, 70,000 residents still needed the FTTH connection they were promised and were provided with government-subsidized internet service via a private LEO satellite internet provider.
Saskatchewan: The provincially owned telecom provider SaskTel launched the Rural Fibre Initiative in 2020. SaskTel will spend $200 million to expand its fibre network to 110,000 residents and businesses in more than 130 rural communities by 2025.
Yukon: Launched in 2020, Every Community Project is a three-year plan to connect 10,000 homes in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The project is funded by a $62.5 million investment from the federal government and private investment from an ISP. In 2022, the ISP partnered with 13 First Nations communities in the Yukon to deliver FTTH service.
As you can see, each province and territories strategy is as unique as its population and landscape. There is no one-size fits all solution to connecting every Canadian to high-speed internet Canada. These strategies will likely continue to evolve as new technologies emerge and project delays arise.
Opportunities for Rural Canada
While any internet connection is better than none, plans that rely heavily on investment from large telcos may not level the playing field for rural and urban Canadians. At the onset of the pandemic, there was pressure on the networks of large telcos as millions of Canadians began working and learning from home and accessing vital services such as telemedicine. In March 2020, urban Canadians’ median average download speed was 26.16 compared to 5.42 for their rural counterparts. By July, the median download speed for urban areas had already nearly doubled to 51.54 Mbps. In rural areas, it continued to languish at 5.62 Mbps. Despite the need for higher speeds in rural areas, large telcos focused their investments on markets with the highest number of customers.
Large telcos have a long history of neglecting rural communities, and with so much funding available, it’s the perfect time for municipalities to adopt a community broadband network model. Under this model, multiple ISPs can sell service packages on the network, giving customers more choice in providers and access to more competitive pricing. Owned by the municipality, a community broadband network allows revenue to be reinvested in their community rather than diverted to urban areas where large telcos are headquartered.
Transform Your Community
On the path to connecting every Canadian to high-speed internet, there’s an opportunity to fundamentally alter Canada’s telecommunications landscape. It may seem daunting, but ROCK Networks is here to help. We work with municipalities to develop a solution to meet their unique needs and connect 100% of residents. Contact us today to get started.