Province making great strides with broadband initiative

Published on September 14, 2013

By Keith Hutchings

I am writing in response to Michael Johansen’s Aug. 24 column, titled “Nature abhors a fibre optic cable.”

The Rural Broadband Initiative was launched in 2011 to provide incentive to telecommunications carriers to expand broadband access into unserved rural and remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador. Since 2003, provincial government investments totalling $29 million have leveraged more than $115 million from other sources to improve broadband access in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Johansen noted in his column that improvements to Internet connectivity in Labrador were “definitely needed.” Both the people and the businesses in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay to western Labrador areas have benefited greatly from the fibre optic installation. Since the fibre optic cable became operational in March, residents and businesses in central and western Labrador have access to world-class Internet services. Socially and economically, this addition to the region’s infrastructure supports long-term benefits as more Labradorians will be able to access the same level of modern communications as those in urban areas.

Prior to the Labrador fibre build, all of the Internet access in central and eastern Labrador was provided by Bell Aliant’s microwave radio system. This system was at capacity and had the potential of inhibiting the economic growth of the region. The new system provides access to new customers and supports the significant industrial and economic activity happening in Labrador. This project included an $11.3-million investment from the provincial government, of which $8.3 million is from Nalcor Energy, as well as

$3 million from the government of Canada, and a $9.7-million investment by Bell Aliant. The project has enhanced high-speed Internet to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Churchill Falls, and enhanced existing service to Labrador City.

In addition, Nalcor is constructing the Labrador island transmission link from Muskrat Falls to the Avalon Peninsula. As part of that project, a fibre optic communications system will be constructed on both the overhead transmission line and the submarine cable system, thus providing a new communications route into Labrador, the Strait of Belle Isle area and the Northern Peninsula. Nalcor will co-operate with industry partners to improve service reliability in Labrador, and also to provide broadband services into under served areas, such as the Straits and the Northern Peninsula.

The federal government is ultimately responsible for telecommunications in Canada. The role of the provincial government is to serve as a facilitator, through making financial investments in partnership with industry to help strengthen the business case for communications carriers to expand broadband access.

Strategic investments and effective partnerships have been the cornerstone to identifying and delivering broadband solutions in the province. Today, more than 500 communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador have access to broadband — up from 114 communities in 2003, and we are well on target to reach approximately 95 per cent coverage for the province by 2014.

Other regions that have benefitted from the Rural Broadband Initiative include the Northern Peninsula, St. Mary’s Bay, the Baie Verte Peninsula, the Southern Shore, south coast and central Newfoundland.

We will continue to be proactive in our approach to rural broadband and in our work with industry, community, and government partners to identify areas where we can support our ongoing broadband infrastructure improvements throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Keith Hutchings is minister of the provincial Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development.