A less than rapid response stream

For the past couple of weeks, it seems that ISED press releases have been flowing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple announcements per day, announcing funding to support broadband investments in rural Canada.

In some cases, work will be completed this year. In other cases, (like this), the announcements indicate that construction will be completed by September 2022, nearly a year and a half from now.

Why such a long construction interval?

There can be a number of factors at play: availability of workers, the need for detailed needs inventories, mapping, engineering, ordering equipment, permits. All of these have to precede the start of actual construction, and in some areas, some activities simply aren’t possible at certain times of year.

In many parts of Canada – especially rural Canada – major construction is tied to the seasons. A few years ago, at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, Bell Canada’s CTO spoke about the challenges of meeting the limited summer shipping window to prepare for arctic construction on Ellesmere Island. For other communities, fans of Ice Road Truckers know that some locations depend on shipping in the winter when lakes are frozen over.

The Rapid Response Stream for Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund was announced November 9, with applications due January 15. This stream set aside up to $150M for projects that could be completed before November 15 of this year. That is just 6 months from now. For many companies, that is already an awfully tight timetable to complete a project of any meaningful size.

Applicants had just 2 months to apply and nearly four months later, most of those applications have not yet been approved. Many won’t be approved. Surely, there are many that could have been rejected already and those applicants should have already been told.

I haven’t seen a scorecard on the program, but it might be a good idea for the government to produce one. It has been reported that 576 applications were received. Whoever is managing the program can hopefully let us know the key indicators being tracked:

  • how many of these projects have been approved,
  • how much of the budget have these projects consumed,
  • how many households are covered by the approved projects,
  • how many applications have been formally rejected,
  • how many projects have been completed,
  • how many households now have access,
  • how many households have subscribed.

What else would you track on your dashboard?

Time is running out. For the Rapid Response Stream to be “rapid”, remaining projects under the program will need to be finalized in the next few weeks, or it will be impossible to meet the November 15 completion deadline.

Watch for more projects to be announced, hopefully somewhat rapidly.

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