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Rural growth through greater internet access


Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural and Economic Development, during the announcement on Wednesday, Feb. 22. – via Facebook

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

FERRYLAND — On Wednesday morning, Feb. 22, representatives from the federal and provincial governments made an announcement of up to $94 million in joint funding for Bell and Xplore. The companies will bring high-speed fibre Internet access to over 36,000 homes in over 350 rural, remote, and Indigenous communities across the province. This funding is part of the current agreement between these two levels of government that was first announced in Feb. 2022, outlining the partnership to invest up to $136 million to connect the remaining rural, remote and Indigenous homes in Newfoundland and Labrador through high-speed Internet access . Currently, 93.5 per cent of Canadians are connected, a jump from the 79 per cent when the current government was formed. The federal government wants to ensure that number will jump to 98 per cent by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030. MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile), Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology, was unable to be in attendance for the announcement, but believes this investment is essential for increased opportunities in the province. “Unlocking the potential of large-scale broadband expansion is a tremendous opportunity to connect more and more residents in our province. By collaborating with the Government of Canada and internet service providers, we are investing in communities and people, spurring economic growth and improving access to a range of services, from health care to educational opportunities.” Glen LeBlanc, Chief Financial Officer of BCE Inc and Bell Canada, and Bell’s Vice Chair, Atlantic Canada, understands the importance of connecting rural communities across Canada. “Reliable high-speed Internet access is a key contributor to the development of communities both large and small, and we’re proud to partner with the Government of Canada and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to expand our all-fibre broadband network to even more communities. Through our own fully funded investments and through partnerships like this, Bell continues to deliver on our purpose to advance how Canadians connect with each other and the world.” Allison Lenehan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Xplore Inc. is also happy to be moving forward with this partnership. “We are pleased to be working alongside the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador to bring fibre Internet to more rural communities across the province. With roots in Atlantic Canada, Xplore is committed to delivering gigabit-speed connectivity so that residents can more fully enjoy rural living and local businesses have an enhanced opportunity to participate in the digital economy.” Bell’s project is anticipated to be completed by December 2025, and Xplore’s by March 2026. Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural and Economic Development, said this is an important step forward for rural NL. “It’s not just Netflix,” said Hutchings. “Remote education, learning from home, working from home, running your business from home, and it’s keeping in touch. But the big thing that it is, is an equalizer. It’s an equalizer for every part of Canada from coast to coast to coast. That makes it a level playing field no matter where your business is, no matter where your farm is, where your fishing operation is. If you have reliable, affordable, high-speed internet, the country is equal.” While Newfoundland and Labrador’s connectivity isn’t as high as the Canadian average, Hutchings is pleased with the momentum. “We know that this is just putting us on track to deliver the commitments that we made to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to connect them with safe and reliable high-speed Internet. Already 79 per cent of the province has access. When we took office it was just over 60 per cent, so we are getting the job done.” Hutchings stated that even though one can’t necessarily see the physical changes taking place, it doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. “You don’t see a building going up. You don’t see a road and a bridge. That’s the problem with this, but trust me, when the construction gets done you will see the vehicles out and around, and your phone will be ringing off the hook asking, ‘when is it coming,’” said Hutchings. Through the Department of Rural and Economic Development, individuals can go to canada.ca/rural and click on their community to see a list of ongoing projects and completion dates. “You’ll be able to see exactly where your progress is and its real results for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” said Hutchings. Ken McDonald, MP for Avalon, is equally as excited for what this announcement means for rural NL. “I don’t think I need to tell anyone how important high-speed internet is to communities like Ferryland and all the rural communities in our province. Our government is working hard to give Canadians who live in rural and remote areas all the advantages of connectivity that come with high-speed internet access,” said McDonald. “Since day one, our government has been dedicated to build high-capacity infrastructure to connect all Canadians, no matter where they live, and today’s announcement is another important step towards our goal. I am proud to say it’s a big step for rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.” MHA Brian Warr (Baie Verte – Green Bay) believes the COVID-19 pandemic shifting the landscape for work and school, has enhanced the necessity for communities to have access to high-speed Internet. “With people working at home, students learning online, virtual health care and so on, there was an increased demand on broadband to complete everyday tasks. We know that internet is no longer a luxury in this day and age, it’s a necessity, but our province’s vast geography presents challenges in keeping us virtually connected. As a result, the cost of the new broadband infrastructure in remote areas is often quite high and requires multiple partners to make it a reality,” said Warr. “While we have worked with partners in the past to improve broadband connectivity for unserved and underserved communities, we knew more had to be done, and closing that connectivity gap has been a long and top priority for our government and that is why the provincial government is happy to partner with the Government of Canada with an investment of $20 million to connect more than 36,000 homes to reliable high-speed Internet.”

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