DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard
KAWARTHA LAKES/NORTH DURHAM: The Ontario provincial government has announced they are making an investment to improve broadband and cellular service in rural and underserved areas.
On Wednesday, June 3rd, provincial officials announced a $150 million investment towards internet and cellphone service improvements.
“Reliable high speed internet is no longer a luxury. It’s an absolutely essential part of our life. Internet connection is something that too many of us take for granted. But there’s still hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario who lack this critical infrastructure,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated, at a recent press conference.
The funds will be distributed through the province’s new Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program, and eligible applicants can include telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profit organizations. According to a press release, this program “when leveraged, has the potential to result in an investment of up to $500 million in total partner funding, to improve connectivity in underserved and unserved areas.”
This investment is part of the province’s $315 million commitment, announced last year, to tackle broadband and cellular service access.
“As someone from rural Ontario, who lives this experience first-hand, I know the digital divide is real,” Minister of Infrastructure, and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott shared.
MPP Scott told The Standard what the intake period, to apply to this program, will be like, “There will be an adequate intake period. More details are going to come in a couple of weeks, but we work with municipalities and in our region EORN (the Eastern Ontario Regional Network) and talked around about the best way to do this.”
What the provincial government heard, was to rollout the program in two intakes. One for projects that could be done right away, and then a second intake for long term, bigger projects.
The first intake is expected to launch this summer. The province will fund a portion of each funding-approved project.
MPP Scott stressed the importance of the federal government stepping up to the plate. “There is never a greater need than now, when we need to work and learn from home,” Ms. Scott explained. “It’s time for all of us to be in the 21st century. We’re doing what we can, and what we need to do, but the federal government needs to come and help us to do that last mile.”