Ontario expanding access to a reliable broadband
The importance of reliable internet access became acutely clear during the lockdowns forced by COVID-19 and the province is proposing new legislation that guarantees it.
The Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act would help underserved communities connect to broadband at a reliable speed to support working from home and online learning, said Laurie Scott, the Minister of Infrastructure.
Christine Bujold, the senior communications advisor and Press Secretary at the ministry, said broadband is a federally regulated sector through the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The government is proposing this plan to speed up broadband expansion, increase competitiveness, and connect communities which would reduce existing barriers to reliable broadband, she said.
“Access to reliable broadband is a challenge for many individuals, families, and businesses not only in Ontario but right across the country,” Bujold said.
Julia Mazlymian, a Radio Postgraduate student at Humber College North Campus, said she experiences the most challenges and interruptions with the connection between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily as everyone in her household is using the internet.
Mazlymian lives outside of Barrie, Ont. where her backyard faces farmland. Reliable internet access has been an ongoing issue for years.
“My life now depends completely on the internet because everything is done from home — all of my schooling. If I don’t have the internet, I can’t go to class or do assignments,” she said.
Strategies were put forward by Mazlymian to maintain a strong connection.
One strategy that she used was changing her location from her room to the basement where the modem was located just to sustain her internet access, she said.
Another strategy suggested was allocating a time slot to do work and not have other family members using the internet during that time, Mazlymian said.
Currently, there are 700,000 homes and businesses in Ontario with poor broadband speed or no internet connection at all, Bujold said.
Ontario released an Up to Speed Ontario broadband and cellular action plan in July 2019, she said.
The plan involves working with the private sector to provide access to high-speed internet and cellular service over the next five years, said Laurie Scott, the Minister of Infrastructure.
The plan will provide access to rural and First Nations communities specifically in southwestern, eastern, and northern communities, she said.
Challenges and barriers still remain an issue for some communities when expanding broadband and cellular infrastructure, Bujold said.
Those challenges include communities with a low population density, limited fibre optic cables, coordinating construction activities, and government programs lacking unified direction, she said.
Service providers are unable to deliver broadband as a result of population density because the distance between customers and construction within these areas may be difficult, Bujold said.
The connection of fibre cables is required to provide service. They are buried in the ground or attached to hydro poles, she said.
Pole attachment fees are paid by telecommunication companies to attach equipment to hydro poles owned by utility companies and they could cause a financial barrier, the Ministry of Infrastructure said.
The lack of coordination of construction has large costs associated, costs would be reduced if a network of construction projects were put in place like it is for roads, they said.
“As part of last fall’s provincial budget the province increased funding for broadband to almost $1billion which is adding on to its previous commitment,” Bujold said.
The legislation in place will be focused on attaching broadband wirelines to hydro utility poles and provide access to municipal rights as well as install broadband on municipal land, Scott said.
The municipal level of government often lacks resources to fund broadband expansion.
If all levels of government came together and aligned broadband expansion operations which would be simplified for telecommunication providers, the Ministry of Infrastructure said.
Ontario proposed the expansion act and is waiting for it to be passed as it is still under review, Bujold said.