Sudbury

Provincial leaders agree on expanding broadband internet in rural and northern Ontario

Every provincial leader mentioned it at the International Plowing Match, but none offered new details on how to expand broadband internet across northern Ontario or how to pay for it.

PC government spending $315 million on expanded cellular and broadband, NDP promising $1 billion

Premier Doug Ford told the crowd at the International Plowing Match in Verner that expanding broadband internet to rural areas is one of his top priorities. (Erik White/CBC )

It's rare that Ontario's premier and the three-would-be premiers he regularly duels with at Queen's Park agree on something.

In their remarks to the International Plowing Match in Verner on Tuesday, all four stressed the importance of expanding broadband internet to rural areas and to northern Ontario.

But they don't agree on how to get it done.

Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford pointed to his government's commitment to spend $315 million over five years to extend high speed and eliminate cellular dead zones around Ontario.

In the 2018 election, the NDP promised $1 billion over 10 years, a similar pledge to the federal Liberals who say they will spend billions to connect every Canadian to broadband by 2030.

Some say that won't even be possible in northern Ontario. 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath waves to the crowds at the International Plowing Match in Verner, who she says should expect high speed internet as an "essential service." (Erik White/CBC )

"Well, we've proved it already," says Ford. "We've put broadband in rural areas throughout Ontario. We're going to continue doing that."

"Do I think it's possible? I think it's unacceptable to expect otherwise," says Horwath.

"If there's a will there's a way. And it shouldn't just be about saying the right things during an election campaign and then of course after the election talking about how difficult it's going to be."

Horwath says she sees broadband as an "essential service" but isn't sure if that means the cables will be owned by the government or a public utility.

"We have not ourselves come up with the final model, but it's not something I would dismiss out of hand," she says.

All four provincial party leaders visiting Verner pledged to expand broadband Internet to rural and northern areas, including Mike Schreiner of the Green Party. (Erik White/CBC)

"If we keep relying on only the private sector it's just not going to happen. Broadband levels the playing field in a competitive world market and everyone knows it."

Premier Ford disagrees and pledges to continue working with telecom giants on finding new customers in rural Ontario. 

"I'm not big on big government. Big government just wastes a lot of money. I think the private sector can do a much better job," he says. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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