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Governments, private groups pony up $40 million to improve high-speed internet in rural N.L.

St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan speaks Tuesday at The Rooms during an announcement of a federal-provincial expenditure of $28.45 million for high-speed internet access in the province.
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan speaks Tuesday at The Rooms during an announcement of a federal-provincial expenditure of $28.45 million for high-speed internet access in the province. - Joe Gibbons

The federal and provincial governments teamed up for an infrastructure funding announcement of a different sort on Tuesday morning.

Ottawa and the province, along with private partners in industry, community and indigenous groups, announced just shy of $40 million in funding for 31 projects to improve high-speed internet access to more than 1,500 households in 70 communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Premier Dwight Ball says the work, once completed, will allow for 99 per cent of the province’s population to be covered by broadband service.

“The one per cent of those people, they’re the most expensive ones to get to, but I will tell you our goal is to have access to broadband internet for every single person,” he said.

Rather than divulge which communities would benefit from the improvements, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan said that news would be announced by the regions’ respective MPs in the coming days.

That said, the premier did indicate Indigenous communities in Labrador are among those that will see improvements.

“There’s areas in Labrador where broadband is something that they read about in a magazine, they read about it in a book. What we want to be able to allow them to do is be able read about the opportunities online with speeds that are functional.”

The bulk of the funding — $24.78 million — is coming from the federal government’s Connect to Innovate program that aims to provide underserviced communities with internet access speeds of five megabits per second or more by building a digital backbone of infrastructure.

It also aims to fund what Ottawa is calling “last-mile connections to households that don’t have internet speeds of at least five megabits per second.

“These projects are going to open up these communities to new opportunities, giving businesses the ability to reach new customers, giving patients the ability to access telemedicine services and giving students the ability to explore their interests and probably play a little multi-player,” O’Regan said.

“This is a real investment in what we call the new wharf, the new road. This is how businesses get product to market. This is a real opportunity for many communities in this province and for businesses that are in them.”

The Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency chipped in $2.1 million, the provincial government had the smallest contribution at $1.57 million, and $11.52 is coming from industry, associations and indigenous groups.

Work is expected to start over the summer, but neither side was willing to discuss when it would be completed.

“We’re going to aggressively get this out there,” the premier said. “We need to get this done as quickly as possible. People have been waiting a long time for broadband and the type of functional broadband that’s required.”

The application process for tenders is already closed, but Bell and Eastlink, two of the three major internet service providers in the province, are involved.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

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