Ottawa

Governments to tackle cell service gaps in eastern Ontario

Three levels of government are investing $152 million to build up cell coverage in rural areas from Ottawa to Peterborough, Ont., saying it will help businesses and families while making it easier to get help in an emergency.

$152M infrastructure investment will benefit 1.1M people from Peterborough to Ontario-Quebec border

Three levels of government are covering most of the $213 million cost of improving cell service in rural eastern Ontario. (Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Three levels of government are now investing $152 million to build up cell coverage in rural areas from Ottawa to Peterborough, Ont., saying it will help businesses and families while making it easier to get help in an emergency.

The federal and provincial governments are each investing $71 million, with another $10 million from municipalities, according to a news release from Infrastructure Canada.

The Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus and province had committed their share in mid-May, with the federal government joining on Thursday.

The caucus said then that it expected mobile carriers chosen through competitive bidding to cover the other $61 million of the project.

No timeline was included.

Affects 1.1M people

Infrastructure Canada said the money would first go toward 317 new communications towers and 32 internet access points to improve overall mobile coverage, without saying where.

The next step would be to help fill any gaps or issues caused by the upgrade, such as heavy traffic.

It expects it would improve cell service for 1.1 million people living in rural areas as far west as Haliburton and Peterborough, as far north as the Township of Head, Clara and Maria, north of Algonquin Park, and as far east as the Quebec-Ontario border near Hawkesbury, Ont.

It does not include rural areas of Ottawa.

Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Francis Drouin announces the cell service funding in his eastern Ontario riding on July 4, 2019. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

"The demand for mobile broadband is growing exponentially, but our region is deeply lacking the needed infrastructure to keep up," said Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham, chair of the wardens' caucus, in Thursday's news release.

"This project is our top priority because eastern Ontario's economic future is at stake."

The federal government is pledging $71 million to expand mobile broadband in eastern Ontario. The next step? Find companies to close the gaps in cellular coverage across the region. 6:36

It said in May 40 per cent of the area's residents can't stream high definition video, 20 per cent can't stream video at all and 10 per cent can't make calls on cell phones.

The caucus then blamed the free market, saying rural areas don't make mobile carriers enough profit for them to want to build up coverage on their own.

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