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Historic investment will support unserved and underserved communities during COVID-19 and beyond

SOFIA SOUSA-DIAS, Communications Branch, Office of The Ontario Premier

The Ontario government is making an historic investment of nearly $1 billion, over six years, to improve and expand broadband and cellular access across the province. The $680 million being announced today is on top of the $315 million to support ‘Up to Speed’: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan. This funding will be used for shovel-ready projects starting in 2019-20, will create jobs, and connect unserved and underserved communities during COVID-19 and beyond.

At the local Haliburton County Public Library in Minden Hills, 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.

“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. Through 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 percent 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 [which] 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 released the 2020 Budget and the next phase of Ontario’s Action Plan on November 5th, 2020.

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