Kitchener-Waterloo

Rural internet pilot project in Wellington County gets $12.1M from province

Wellington County will be part of a pilot project to bring broadband internet to rural areas.

'We have to get fibre out to the communities,' SWIFT chair David Mayberry says

The province announced $63.7 million on Wednesday for a pilot project by SWIFT to improve broadband internet infrastructure to Wellington county. (Dmitry A./Shutterstock)

A pilot project to bring better internet to people in rural Wellington County will move ahead after the province confirmed it will provide $12.1 million in funding.

The money was previously announced by the former Liberal government, but it was put on hold last fall while the Progressive Conservatives reviewed spending commitments.

Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton, who was in Palmerston on Thursday for the announcement, said the project was recently given the go-ahead.

A similar announcement was made in Norfolk County on Wednesday and the province has committed $63.7 million to fund projects by SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology).

"Within 11 months, we're moving forward with a substantial investment," he said in an interview. "For the families in Wellington, that's great news because they're going to be one of the first counties to go forward to have expanded broadband service in the near future."

The project will be run by the not-for-profit SWIFT, which is made up of a number of municipalities. 

The goal is to build better broadband internet infrastructure in rural parts of southwestern Ontario.

Parents taking kids to fast food places to access WiFi

David Mayberry is the Mayor of South-West Oxford and chair of SWIFT.

"I'll be the first to admit I struggle with the amount of time it takes. On the other hand, being careful and making sure that all the eventualities and ideas are vetted and make sense is not a bad thing," he told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. 

McNaughton says he's heard from people who tell him the internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity for day-to-day life.

"Being disconnected is being disadvantaged, and we've all heard stories about moms and dads that take their kids to sit in front of a fast food restaurant, whether it's McDonald's or Tim Hortons, or going to a local library to get WiFi so kids can complete their project and study for an exam," he said.

"This is so important. It is essential for people and families and farmers and small businesses in rural Ontario to have access to broadband."

$3B total price tag

Mayberry said the goal is to know this fall which communities and areas within Wellington county will be part of the pilot project, potentially starting construction before the end of the year.

He said they have a long way to go to serve the whole of southwestern Ontario with the SWIFT network.

"If you're going to do all of southwestern Ontario, you're looking at $3 billion," he said, noting no level of government is ready to fund all of that right now.

As well, he said, "It's going to take time."

He said the good news is that all levels of government now seem to be on the same page about the project.

"We absolutely have to get, there's no question, we have to get fibre out to the communities. We've got to improve broadband access," he said.

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