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Universal Broadband Fund: High-speed access for all

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday his government's plan to launch the $1.75 billion universal broadband fund to build infrastructure across the country, mainly in rural and remote communities.

Trudeau made the announcement alongside Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef.

The announcement comes at a time when the internet has been a life raft against the rocky waves of the COVID-19 pandemic with businesses, schools and workplaces having to move online.

“Now more than ever, a video chat cutting out during a meeting, or a connection that’s too slow to upload a school assignment, that’s not just a hassle, it’s a barrier.” Trudeau said during Monday’s announcement.

A press release following Trudeau’s announcement states that $150 million of the universal broadband fund is available immediately as part of the Rapid Response Stream. The funding is available for projects ready to get underway. The Liberal government has also committed $600 million to secure satellite capacity through Telesat in order to provide high-speed internet to remote areas in the North.

The universal broadband fund will also put $50 million of its total budget for mobile internet projects that primarily benefit Indigenous peoples.

Marcus Powlowski, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Rainy River says the plan has been in the making for a long time and the goal is to get 98 per cent of Canadians connected to high speed internet by 2026.

“The idea is it will result in more money coming back into the economy, but also making lives better for people for a whole number of reasons, whether it's so they can apply for government services, which increasingly, you need to do online or to buy things or to socialize or to be entertained, especially in the days of COVID,” Powlowski said.

As daily life becomes more dependent on the internet, Powlowski says high speed internet it is essential for those in rural communities to fully participate in the world. This is a big deal to rural communities and Indigenous peoples as some families are relying on LTE alone, which is not enough and often results in a high bill to pay, Powlowski added.

The Ministry of Infrastructure stated in a press release on Monday that the Ontario government announced close to $20 million of infrastructure funding for communities in northern Ontario. Communities in northern Ontario are eligible to apply for the joint federal and provincial funding through the local government sub-stream of the COVID-19 Resilience infrastructure stream. Atikokan, Emo, Dryden and Fort Frances are some of many municipalities eligible. Fort Frances is allocated to $184,736.

The $20 million investment for the North will support the building of necessary projects such as long-term care facilities, expanding access to healthy and safe education and to improve the quality of municipal buildings.

As per the federal governments criteria, all projects must begin by Sept 30 2021 and be completed by Dec 31 2021. However, remote communities, defined as a community with a population of 5,000 or less are given until Dec 31 2022 to complete their projects.

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