Kitchener-Waterloo

Provincial cash for rural internet and cellphones 'an absolute game changer' for region: MPP

The province has pledged $315 million to improve access to internet and cellphone service in rural and remote areas, with $63.7 million for SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology).

Announcement includes previously announced funding for SWIFT

Premier Doug Ford announced a $315 million plan to improve internet and cellphone service for the province's rural and remote communities in Lucan on Tuesday. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

The province is pledging $315 million to improve access to internet and cellphone service in rural areas and that will be "an absolute game changer" for Waterloo region, one MPP says.

Premier Doug Ford made the funding announcement in Lucan on Tuesday morning. The funding, which will flow over the next five years, includes $150 million for a new broadband fund.

Part of the announcement included the previously announced $63.7 million for the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) corporation, which is made up of member municipalities in the hopes of building better broadband internet infrastructure in rural parts of Ontario. 

Of that, $12.1 million will go toward a pilot project to bring better broadband internet to parts of Wellington County.

The province says it expects the investment will help improve connectivity for 220,000 homes and businesses.

"Access to fast and reliable internet and cellphone service will be an absolute game changer for many communities, small businesses and families in Waterloo region's rural townships," Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris said in a release.

Will help students, businesses

Ahead of the provincial government's budget, which came out in April, Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak said he wanted to see more support for affordable broadband in the region's townships.

He told CBC News at the time people in Wellesley regularly ask him when internet services will be improved, adding broadband has become "an essential service" but many rural areas still don't have reliable internet.

"We have students out here that live in the rural areas that have to go into the library or Tim Hortons or wherever they can find some connection. We have a lot of businesses out here," Nowak said. "It would be good for them to expand their operations."

Harris said in an interview that the announcement shows the government is listening to people.

"This is something that was brought to us pretty well immediately after winning the election and it is certainly something that's very important to a lot of people, not only in Waterloo region, but of course across the province," he said.

"It does mean that people in rural communities won't have to go seek out that free wifi at Tim Hortons or McDonald's anymore," Harris said in an interview.

"It also means that businesses won't have to put up with the slow speeds of internet or not having internet at all," he added. "Doing business in the modern day means you're sending emails, you're checking commodity prices online, especially for our farmers, it's really important to be able to do that."

NDP raises concerns

But NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo, who represents Kitchener Centre, says she will be watching to see how the money is rolled out and "how it's actually going to play out on the ground."

"I do think that there's a bit of a pattern. We reannounce ideas that we had before, we get really excited about it and then people are still behind," she said.

One of the big concerns the NDP has with this announcement, Lindo says, is the province's reliance on private companies to be part of the solution to bring broadband internet to rural and remote areas.

"We know that a lot of those private companies weren't investing in these areas simply because it wasn't profitable for them to do so," she said.

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