Federal budget to boost rural high-speed internet access
Broadband infrastructure investment previewed in throne speech
Tuesday's federal budget will include money to extend or improve high-speed internet access to 280,000 households and businesses in rural and remote areas, CBC News has learned.
The move, which was previewed in last fall's speech from the throne, is being pitched as part of the government's focus on consumers and also as part of its Economic Action Plan to stimulate economic growth and help small business, particularly in the North.
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Details of the investment will come later, according to a government official.
But he is also under pressure from the opposition, which has made consumer irritants — such as high cellphone rates — an issue in the House of Commons.
The government waged a public battle against the big three wireless companies in the fall, with an ad campaign calling for greater competition.
Now, it appears it is also ready to make additional infrastructure investment to improve broadband access in underserved areas.
Expanding high-speed internet access in rural areas was a Stephen Harper campaign promise in the 2008 election. The stimulus budget the next year included money to expand broadband access, and the government says it has already helped bring high-speed service to 200,000 households in areas that didn't already have it.
Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale said he'd wait to see what was actually in Tuesday's budget.
"I think you should remember in the meantime [the Conservatives] cut services to remote communities in the form of the Community Access Program," Goodale said.
"That program had expanded into virtually every community in the country of a population of 500 or more. That was a program that in their budget-cutting frenzy a few years ago they chopped, so they actually impaired the access of smaller communities to the internet. Now they're trying to play catchup."
"We'll see what's actually there in the budget and over how many years they propose to implement this idea," he said.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash also said she was taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"As you know, there's about $10 billion from the last budget that's gone unspent after it was part of promised and approved spending, so we'll see if [this] actually gets implemented.
"My guess is they're feeling sensitive about their rural — the rural parts of Canada, given they've failed to protect [passenger] rail service in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick," Nash said, also pointing to recent negative coverage of cuts to district offices for veterans' services.
"So I think especially in rural areas they're facing a lot of pressure to actually do something," Nash said. "Their need to do damage control is immediate, but whether the actual program will see the light of day soon is still up in the air."
On Friday, Flaherty said he would also use the budget to change rules for charities to crack down on money laundering.
The minister said "some terrorist organizations" and crime organizations have been funnelling money through charities.
This will be Flaherty's 10th budget. He released two budgets around 2011's election.
With files from Alison Crawford and The Canadian Press