The coming days have finally come

On June 8, Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef told the Rural and Remote Broadband Conference that a call for applications for Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund would be issued “in the coming days.”

Today, 5 months later, the ‘coming days’ finally came. Prime Minister Justin Trueau was joined by Ministers Monsef, Bains, McKenna and Rodriguez in announcing “Universal Broadband Fund and Telesat low Earth orbit capacity agreement”.

The highlights of the announcement:

  • increased the funding available through the Universal Broadband Fund from $1 billion, announced in Budget 2019, to $1.75 billion.
  • accelerating the target for broadband access to 98% by 2026 (from 95%)
  • a Rapid Response Stream for the Universal Broadband Fund, making up to $150 million available for projects that will be completed quickly (provide service by November 15, 2021)
  • $50 million dedicated to improving mobile Internet availability in areas of benefit to Indigenous communities
  • up to $600 million to secure capacity on Telesat’s LEO satellite constellation (a project announced more than a year ago)

Is enough funding being allocated to the Rapid Response Stream? Last week, CRTC Chair Ian Scott told the ISP Summit that the CRTC’s last call for broadband funding (in November 2019) drew “600 applications with a combined ask of more than $1.5 billion.” That is far in excess of the CRTC’s funding. A year later, we might assume that many of these projects are ready to go, awaiting funding.

Do we have too many different broadband funding programs, operating at various levels of government, without sufficient coordination? Have we looked at ongoing operating costs and affordability in these areas?

Have we created too much overhead, in creating and administering the programs and for applicants seeking funding?

The ‘coming days’ have finally arrived, just as winter weather creates challenges for construction.

How quickly will we actually get projects approved and service launched?

The coming days have finally come. Was it worth waiting for?

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