Nfld. & Labrador

Download this: $40 million pledged to expand rural internet, improve service across N.L.

Federal government, private groups pitching in most money but timelines unknown

Posted: January 02, 2018
Last Updated: January 03, 2018

MP Seamus O'Regan and Premier Dwight Ball announced funding to expand broadband internet service in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday at the Rooms. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

About $40 million in federal, provincial and private funding will go toward expanding broadband internet services around Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government announced Tuesday.

When the work is completed, 1,500 homes will be brought online across rural parts of the province and, according to Premier Dwight Ball, 99 per cent of the province's population will have access to broadband internet.

"That's a big number," he said. "It really speaks to the opportunity now that we have to offer services and do business anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador."

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In some rural communities, internet services will be upgraded. In other areas, new lines will be constructed to create or extend service to include more households.

Large expense per household

Even with the work being done, the one per cent of the province's households excluded means 2,657 homes — nearly twice the 1,500 being upgraded next summer.

Ball said the government will focus on ensuring they, too, have access to higher internet speeds.

"There's the one per cent of those people — these are the most expensive ones to get to," he said. "We want to look at the last one per cent. We're going to get to that."

There was some confusion following the announcement about where the money was going.

The full value of the $40 million is not going to expand rural access to internet services. In fact, the vast majority of the federal portion is going toward expanding fibre op service across the province — not connecting new households.

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Internet speeds in 1,500 homes in Newfoundland and Labrador could increase tenfold after work being done next summer — but at a huge cost per household. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The minimum speed will be five megabits per second — about 100 times the typical speed of dial-up internet. Bell Aliant's top speed for areas with the capacity for fibre optics is 18,000 times faster than dial-up.

In 2016, the CRTC set targets for internet service providers to offer at least 50 megabits per second in all parts of Canada.

The money will cover 31 projects to improve service in 70 communities. Work will begin in the summer of 2018, Ball said, but there is no timeline as to when it will be completed.

A tendering process has already begun, with applications now closed for interested telecommunications companies. Ball mentioned Bell Aliant by name, saying they would be a large player in the expansion.

'The new wharf, the new road'

Seamus O'Regan, MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl, was on hand to represent the federal government and its $27-million contribution.

"This a real investment in what we call the new wharf, the new road," he said. "This is how businesses get product to market. This is a real opportunity for many businesses in the province."

Nearly $25 million will come from a federal program to extend internet service Canada-wide. A further $2.1 million comes from the federal government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency fund.

Another large chunk of funding comes from "other contributors." Bell Aliant says they have contributed $9.2 million and Ball said Indigenous groups have also pitched in with money.

Premier Dwight Ball says his government is committed to bringing better internet service to the one per cent of homes still not covered. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The province will contribute the least to the work, with a total of $1.57 million.

But it's worth it to bring remote areas of the province access to the internet and the possible economic advantages that come with it, Ball said.

"There's areas in Labrador right now where broadband is something they read about in a magazine, or read about in a book," he said. "We want them to be able to read about it online."

While a list of the 70 communities is completed, it was not released to the public Tuesday. Instead, government officials will make announcements in their home ridings or districts this week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cooke

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.