Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is promising ubiquitous high-speed broadband internet access across Canada within three years if his party is elected to government.
Ignatieff made the commitment to 100-per-cent connectivity, with speeds of at least 1.5 megabits, for all Canadian communities by 2013 in a video conference from Thunder Bay, Ont., on Tuesday. He also promised expanded cellphone coverage and said a more ambitious internet speed goal would follow by 2017.
A Liberal government would fund the initiative with money raised from the upcoming public auction of wireless airwaves, scheduled for next year, he said.
More than 800,000 households still did not have access to broadband in 2009, Ignatieff said.
High-speed internet: Does your community have access?
"In today's economy, no technology does more to encourage job creation, entrepreneurship and opportunity than broadband internet," Ignatieff said in a news release on the federal Liberals' website. "It’s the key to convincing young people to build their lives and careers in the communities they grew up in. It's the key to giving many rural communities a chance to grow again."
Ignatieff also criticized the Harper government for allowing Canada to slip in international broadband standings. At the turn of the millennium, Canada was a world broadband leader, ranking second in the percentage of people subscribed to high-speed internet services. Since then, the country has slipped to 10th, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The current government pledged $225 million in February 2009 for expanding broadband in rural communities, but so far, it "has not signed one agreement to improve rural internet connectivity," Ignatieff said.
In response, Industry Minister Tony Clement said he will unveil rural broadband plans "very shortly."
"Our government is moving forward with our digital economy strategy, and rural broadband is an integral part of the plan," Clement said in a statement. "We are working to develop a strategy that will strengthen Canada's ability to compete and lead in the global digital economy."
Several countries are at various stages of enacting ambitious plans to wire their citizenry with super-fast internet speeds. In March, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced a plan to connect 100 million homes with 100-megabit speeds. The Australian government is currently testing its $40-billion National Broadband Network, which will see 90 per cent of homes, schools and workplaces connected with 100-megabit speeds.
Ignatieff invited people to share their thoughts on broadband on his Facebook page or in an online town hall being held on the Liberals' website at 3:30 p.m. ET on May 5.