Ford unveils plan for improved rural internet access

Premier Doug Ford speaks in Lucan about high speed internet for rural Ontario, July 23, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News.)

The provincial government is moving forward with its multi-million dollar plan to bring high-speed internet and better cellular service to rural and remote communities in Ontario.

Using the Lucan Area Heritage and Donnelly Museum as a backdrop, Premier Doug Ford laid out his government’s $315-million broadband and cellular action plan on Tuesday.

“Whether you’re at home, work, or school, connectivity is an important part of people’s everyday lives,” said Ford. “It is about time we make sure our rural communities are up to speed and can participate in all of the many benefits of the digital age.”

The project includes four so-called “pillars of action.” They are delivering regional shovel ready projects, the creation of a $150-million program aimed at leveraging private sector funding and investment, removing hurdles that slow development, and maximizing existing programs and assets – such as towers and buildings.

The province estimates the plan will generate up to $1-billion in total investment over five years, linking up to 220,000 homes and businesses currently without high-speed service with reliable internet access.

“For the people in these communities it is a massive, real problem. They’re not able to do some of the basic things that most of us take for granted. Things like paying bills online, watching videos, upgrading job skills through e-learning or staying in touch with family and loved ones,” said Ford. “People in our rural communities deserve the same level of service that the rest of Ontario enjoys and relies on every single day.”

Premier Doug Ford greets Lucan residents, July 23, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News.)

Premier Doug Ford greets Lucan residents.

Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton joined Ford for the unveiling of the plan.

The funding for the rural internet upgrades was originally announced in the 2019 provincial budget in April. According to Ford, 12 per cent of Ontario communities don’t have access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet and cell service.

“It’s a game changer for rural Ontario,” Lucan Biddulph Mayor Cathy Burghardt-Jesson said following Tuesday’s news conference. “It is going to open up so many doors for businesses, for investment in rural Ontario, for families. I just spoke with a family who live just outside of Lucan and their children can’t do school work because they have a very weak WiFi signal.”

With provincial funds on the table, Burghardt-Jesson believes it will now be viable for private internet providers to run fibre optic cables down concession roadways that only have one or two houses.