Details were provided ahead of the release of Ontario's 2020 Budget by Premier Doug Ford, Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance, Laurie Scott, Minister of Infrastructure and MPP for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, and Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board, at the local Haliburton County Public Library in Minden Hills.
"By providing high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved communities like Minden Hills, we will create good jobs, unlock new opportunities for businesses and people, and improve the quality of life for individuals and families," said Premier Ford. "With the world online these days, if we are going to attract more investment to Ontario and compete in this highly competitive global marketplace, we need every part of our province connected with high-speed Internet."
The investment announced today doubles funding for the Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program, bringing the new total to $300 million. This program now has the potential to leverage more than $900 million in total partner funding to improve connectivity in areas of need across Ontario. As part of Ontario's broadband and cellular action plan, ICON is one of several provincial initiatives underway to improve connectivity across Northern, Eastern and Southwestern Ontario.
"Tomorrow, I'll introduce Ontario's 2020 Budget, the next phase of Ontario's Action Plan," said Minister Phillips. "The first pillar of this action plan is Protect, making good on Premier Ford's commitment to do whatever it takes to get through the pandemic. The second pillar is Support, because we know COVID-19 has brought severe challenges and economic difficulties to families and employers across the province. The third pillar is Recover and includes today's historic investment in broadband. Though initiatives like this our government is laying the foundation for a strong economic recovery and a successful future."
Over 1.4 million people in Ontario do not have broadband or cellular access, and as many as 12 per cent of households in Ontario, mostly in rural, remote or Northern areas, are underserved or unserved from the perspective of broadband, according to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) data.
"This investment will connect even more residents in communities across Ontario to faster, more reliable Internet and cell service," said Minister Scott. "Today's commitment to connect more people to reliable broadband and cellular service ― along with many others we've made ― will make it easier for more people to work and learn from home, run their businesses and connect with others."
In October, the province released Ontario Onwards: Ontario's COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government. Improving access to broadband and cellular service is one of the initial projects. Through Ontario Onwards, the province will help make government services more efficient and the lives of people and businesses better. Today's announcement is another example of the government's commitment to making Ontario the world's leading digital jurisdiction.
"Improving Access to Broadband and Cellular Services is a signature project of the Ontario Onwards Action Plan to make vital programs and services more convenient, more reliable, and more accessible," said Minister Bethlenfalvy. "At present, 1.4 million Ontarians lack access to broadband services that meet the CRTC's minimum service standards, many in rural and northern areas. Today, we are ensuring more people and businesses can have safe and secure online access to the programs and services many of us already enjoy."
Building on Ontario's Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, the province's $30 billion response to the pandemic, the government remains committed to making available the necessary resources to protect people's health, and support people and employers. Ontario will release the 2020 Budget and the next phase of Ontario's Action Plan on November 5, 2020.
- ICON was launched in July 2020. The program leverages partner funding by inviting applicants like telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits, to submit innovative proposals and lend their investment, expertise and experience to improve connectivity in communities across Ontario. The province funds a portion of each approved project.
- Over the past several months, Ontario has partnered with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) to invest $71 million in a $213 million project to improve access to cellular service and mobile broadband in Eastern Ontario.
- The province is investing in the $190 million Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario. In the past few months, SWIFT Inc. has awarded contracts to bring high-speed Internet to thousands of residents in Lambton, Wellington, Norfolk, Oxford, Dufferin, Essex and Caledon. More contracts are expected in the coming months.
- Ontario has invested in initiatives to improve connectivity in Northern Ontario, including broadband projects through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and the Next Generation Network Program.
- Access to broadband is a core component of the province’s Learn at Home plan. Reliable Internet, particularly in rural and regional areas, is essential to supporting students’ success in school. The provincial government recently called on the federal government to take immediate action to improve Internet connectivity for Ontario students.
- Ontario Onwards: Ontario’s COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government includes more than 30 projects that will improve the way people and businesses interact with government, saving them both time and money.