In Budget 2019, the federal government announced its goal to get 95 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses connected to internet speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps by 2026, regardless of where they are located.
Canada plans to accomplish that by investing up to $1.7 billion – over 13 years – to create the Universal Broadband Fund, a national high-speed internet program.
“We were particularly pleased that the federal government had prioritized universal broadband for a key focus within the budget,” said Mark Buell, regional bureau director for North America at the Internet Society.
“It’s great to see that government sees connecting all Canadians to high-speed, quality internet as a priority and recognizes the role that the internet plays in the 21st-century economy.”
Part of those funds will go to securing new low-latency Low Earth Orbit satellite capacity to help connect remote communities to high-speed internet.
And while a $ 1.7 billion investment is a step in the right direction, Buell doesn’t think it’s enough to reach the goal of 50 Mbps download speeds across the country.
“It could cost in excess of $4-to $5-billion to connect everyone at that speed,” said Buell.
In addition to that $1.7 billion is a partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which will “apply its innovative financing tools to stimulate private sector investment in high-speed internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities,” the budget states.
But, Buell said he’s not sure connecting offline communities is a priority for the private sector for existing internet service providers.
“There’s not going to be a lot of return on investment to connect, in particular, the communities in the northern Northwest Territories,” he said.
As always with a federal budget, the devil is in the details, he said.
“We have the commitment of 1.7 billion from the federal government, but we don’t necessarily know how that’s going to be rolled out,” said Buell.
Hopefully, the allocation of that funding will be decided through meaningful engagement and partnerships with Northerners, he said.
“It’s the people who live in the North who know what’s best for their communities.”