A Conservative government would allocate up to $500 million by 2016 to extend Canada's broadband network into unserved rural and remote areas, party leader Stephen Harper said Saturday.

However, the private sector and other levels of government would have to match the federal money to pay for the $1.5-billion project.

Broadband access, which provides high-speed links to the internet, is an economic necessity in a knowledge economy, but "as it currently stands, one in 10 Canadians does not have access to broadband," a party news release said.

The Conservatives will provide $100 million a year for five years — starting in 2010-11 "at the latest"  — to encourage private companies to extend their broadband networks.

The government needs to subsidize the private sector to deliver broadband because many communities have too few people or are too far from cities for companies to make a profit on the service.

Opposition critics have called for the government to allocate at least $2 billion to extending broadband service. The money should come from the more than $4.2 billion the government raised this summer by selling cellphone airwaves, Liberal critic Scott Brison has said.