A day after detailing funds to improve broadband services in Labrador, Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development Keith Hutchings announced a similar, though smaller, investment planned for the island portion of the province.
The $4-million investment will improve broadband Internet access on the Northern Peninsula, the southwest coast, and in central Newfoundland.
“As a government we have made a commitment to improving broadband access in all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Hutchings, who spoke Thursday morning at the Confederation Building in St. John’s.
“Quite simply, broadband access is essential in the modern age. It has tremendous commercial, educational and social applications.”
The two investments announced for Labrador and the island will raise the percentage of residents with broadband access to approximately 85 per cent — up 20 percentage points from 2003.
Bell Aliant will use $2.1 million of the new funds towards a
$3.5-million expansion in services planned for the Northern Peninsula and in the central and eastern regions, covering 18 communities.
XploreNet Communications will use $1.67 million to implement a fixed wireless system in central Newfoundland, while Burgeo Broadcasting Systems and Ramea Communications will use $230,000 to upgrade services to Ramea, Grey River, and Francois along the southwest coast.
“Through (the Rural Broadband Initiative’s) implementation, the provincial government is providing an incentive for carriers to deliver access where the business case is not strong enough for them to go it alone,” Hutchings said.
As for those communities that are still waiting for broadband Internet services to reach their homes and businesses, Hutchings offered few specifics on when they will be dealt with.
“This is Phase 1 of the Rural Broadband Initiative. We made a commitment in the Blue Book in the last provincial election that over the next four years we would look at extending our broadband and Internet services to as many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as possible. This is one step, and we’re continuing along that path.”
He said the province’s geography presents challenges for service providers.
“When you compare us to other jurisdictions in Canada (with) remote, more northern communities, we’re on par with most,” he said.
Hutchings said while there were companies who applied for funds under a $225-million broadband investment through Industry Canada as part of the federal government’s Economic Action Plan, he said no applications from Newfoundland and Labrador were approved.
Wednesday’s announcement in Labrador entailed a $24-million investment jointly funded by the province ($11.3 million), Nalcor Energy ($8.3 million), the federal government ($3 million), and Bell Aliant ($9.7 million).