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In our increasingly digital world, we need to be connected. This means being able to quickly send an email, check our cell phones for directions or enjoy an online video chat with friends or family.
Students need to be connected to finish homework assignments or take a university course online. Hard-working people need to be able to easily and immediately access digital resources on the go or to work remotely. Families want to stream video to their living rooms, pay bills with the click of a mouse and securely receive medical test results faster. For businesses across all sectors, whether it’s manufacturing, agriculture or e-commerce, they all depend on fast, reliable connections.
It is unacceptable to this government that not everyone in Ontario has access to the broadband or cellular connections they need. In fact, as much as 12% of our population lives in communities – mostly rural, remote or northern areas – that are unserved or underserved. We need to do better.
That’s why we are introducing Ontario’s first-ever broadband and cellular action plan. It outlines why fast and reliable connectivity is critical to delivering on our commitment to make Ontario open for business and jobs. Connected communities attract significant and lasting investments, which boost the local and provincial economy, improving the quality of life for all Ontarians.
We are committed to delivering improved digital government service and supporting access to quality internet connections, so the people of Ontario can access these vital services.
As Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure, I am proud to share our government’s action plan to bring better broadband and cellular service to all parts of our province. The plan outlines action on four key fronts:
- delivering regional and shovel-ready projects
- launching a new program to expand access to unserved and underserved communities
- maximizing existing programs and government assets
- reducing red tape and removing barriers to infrastructure expansion
We believe government can be the catalyst for getting reliable, affordable broadband and cellular service across the province. We will bring together private-sector telecommunications partners and other levels of government to find solutions that work. We will leverage taxpayer dollars responsibly for investments in communities that need it most.
Our actions will result in the connection of up to 220,000 households and businesses.
We know this will be an ongoing initiative. We look forward to working with people, businesses and communities to ensure a connected Ontario.
The Honourable Laurie Scott
Minister of Infrastructure
- People First
The people of Ontario have access to the connectivity they need in an increasingly digital world.
Ontario supports universal access to broadband and cellular services that meet Canada’s minimum service standard.
Four pillars of action
Deliver regional and shovel-ready projects
Ontario will work with partners to deliver projects that will expand broadband and cellular access in Southwestern, Eastern and Northern Ontario.
Invest in broadband and cellular infrastructure
Ontario will launch a $150 million provincial broadband and cellular infrastructure program beginning in 2020-21.
Maximize existing programs and assets
Ontario will provide additional resources to communities to invest in broadband and cellular infrastructure by expanding existing programs and making better use of government assets, including towers, land and buildings.
Modernize government to remove barriers
Ontario will cut red tape to make it easier for government and the private sector to deliver broadband projects. This will remove hurdles that slow down development and delay broadband expansion.
Up to Speed
Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan
Families across Ontario expect reliable high-speed internet and cellular service – no matter where they are. By being connected, we can stay in touch with family and friends, access public services like health care and education, and work from anywhere.
For Ontario businesses, a high-speed connection means increased productivity, improved product marketing and the ability to reach a wider range of customers. It also means they can hire more people.
Broadband and cellular networks are critical infrastructure. These networks are even more essential today with the rise of connected devices and changing technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. Technology is transforming our economy and our workplaces by opening markets and connecting the business world. To stay competitive, Ontario must ensure people and businesses are connected.
Our goal is simple. We want people in Ontario to have internet and mobile connections at home, at work, and along major highways. Coverage for internet connections should be at speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload. These speeds will allow people to bank, shop, study and work online, while also accessing social networking sites and streaming video.
To help meet this goal, the Province is investing $315 million over five years to focus on expanded access for unserved and underserved communities. These investments will leverage funding from the private sector and other levels of government to directly generate up to $1 billion in total investment over five years. This will lead to community and economic benefits well beyond our investment.
It will result in access for up to 220,000 households and businesses.
We know red tape and burdensome regulations deter private sector investments. That’s why, in addition to capital funding, the Province will encourage network expansion by reducing regulatory burdens, cutting red tape, modernizing government programs and exploring ways to streamline approvals.
We will also explore innovative partnerships to find solutions that include industry-led ways to bridge funding gaps.
Ontario recognizes that every region, community and neighbourhood is different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why provincial broadband and cellular funding and partnerships will be flexible to accommodate specific needs.
Families and businesses need to be connected
Broadband and cellular networks are the foundations of the digital economy, essential for communications, employment, education, health care, doing business, and ensuring critical safety networks are always available. Consumers and employers want faster speeds, more access and affordable services.
There are many reasons for this increase in demand, including the expansion of online service delivery, the rise of movie and television streaming, the increased use of connected devices, and the growth of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles and precision agriculture.
Faster and more reliable connectivity is creating new economic opportunities for the people of Ontario, including:
- offering business services and products to the global market
- producing media content on the internet
- developing and accessing shared economy services (e.g., ride-sharing programs)
E-commerce provides opportunities for companies across the province to increase sales, diversify their markets and create jobs.
Improved access to broadband and cellular infrastructure will:
- support Ontario’s “Open for Business” agenda to create jobs and boost productivity and the economy
- modernize delivery of health care, education and other government services (for example, by expanding the number of services offered online by Service Ontario)
- improve public safety, especially along major highways in rural and remote areas
- create flexibility for people to work from home or remote locations
Broadband and cellular access in Ontario
Most residents in Ontario have access to the internet, however, the speed, quality, reliability and cost of each connection can vary significantly. And while many have access, some communities in rural, remote and northern Ontario lack broadband and cellular service altogether.
In these places, low population density, geography and technology limitations can make it too expensive for private sector providers to expand their networks.
This is the driving force behind Ontario’s commitment to finding innovative solutions to ensure businesses and people have access to high-speed internet.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reports that 98% of Ontario households have access to the most basic download speed of at least 5 Mbps. At that speed, people and businesses have difficulty sharing files by email, let alone streaming videos or making connections via Skype and other online communication platforms.
About 88% of Ontario households have access to the Canadian service standard of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. At these speeds, people can stream services while allowing them to work, email and surf the web at the same time.
Still, for the estimated 12% of households that cannot access that standard, the disparity in speeds is frustrating and limits their ability to enhance their quality of life and participate in today’s digital world.
It is also estimated that 91% of Ontario’s roads are covered by the latest mobile technology. This means people travelling on some roads and highways across the province still face a safety risk in case of an emergency.
Barriers and challenges
Ontario has made strides in expanding broadband and cellular infrastructure and enhancing connectivity. However, challenges and barriers remain for some communities.
Low population density, expansive distance and tough terrain: Service providers face more challenges delivering broadband to rural, remote and northern communities than they do to urban locations. This gap is driven largely by low population densities, long distances between customers and tough-to-navigate terrain. Even large telecommunications providers with construction divisions have limited economic incentive to expand into low-density communities. While smaller providers may have more incentive to grow their customer base, they may face high costs because of expansive geography and local terrain (such as rock and dense forest) that make construction difficult.
Limited access to fibre-ready infrastructure: Connecting communities often requires running fibre optic cables long distances, typically buried in the ground or attached in the air to hydro poles. Ontario has the highest hydro pole attachment rates in Canada. Attachment rates are annual fees paid by telecommunications companies to attach equipment to hydro poles owned by utility companies. These costs are a financial barrier to expansion in rural, remote and northern areas.
Coordinating construction activities: Permit requirements and lack of coordination of construction activities can add significant costs to build and upgrade networks. These costs could be reduced by coordinating network construction with other construction projects, such as roads.
Complex landscape of government programs lacking unified direction: Multiple programs, criteria and jurisdictional responsibilities can create a complex environment. At the municipal level, there is also often a lack of resources to support funding applications for broadband expansion. Aligning broadband expansion programs across all levels of government can simplify operations for telecommunications providers and municipalities. Alignment can also provide more opportunity for innovative partnerships between government and the private sector.
Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan
To expand broadband access and address market gaps, Ontario will work with the private sector, other levels of government and stakeholders to:
- invest in infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas
- identify and remove regulatory red tape to encourage private sector and community-led investment in unserved and underserved areas
- modernize and streamline government programs and initiatives
Over the next five years, Ontario will take the following actions to expand broadband access for up to 220,000 households and businesses:
- Deliver projects that are ready to move forward with construction to support unserved and underserved areas in the short-term, including rural and First Nations communities. These projects will expand broadband and cellular access in Southwestern, Eastern and Northern Ontario.
- Invest in a new broadband and cellular infrastructure program. Starting in 2020-21, Ontario will invest $150 million over four years to expand broadband and cellular access.
Our goal is to design a program that is flexible and promotes innovative industry partnerships. We will encourage solutions that leverage the dollars, experience and innovation of the private sector to meet the connectivity needs of communities that are unserved and underserved.
- Maximize existing infrastructure programs and provincial assets to support broadband and cellular expansion. Ontario will expand existing programs to give municipalities additional tools to support broadband and cellular projects. Ontario will also review provincial assets such as towers, buildings, lands and hydro pole attachment rates to optimize connectivity and lower costs of deploying technology to encourage private sector investment.
Ontario will build on existing government initiatives to support broadband and cellular infrastructure expansion. These initiatives are based on a people first, forward-looking approach and ensuring the most efficient use of public resources.
- Modernize government regulations and programs. The government will listen to the telecommunications sector. We will work with service providers and infrastructure partners to reduce regulatory red tape and encourage broadband and cellular infrastructure expansion.
The road ahead
Improving broadband and cellular connectivity is not a goal on its own. It is a way to support jobs and opportunities. It provides better services for people and families. It improves the overall quality of life for Ontarians.
Technology is constantly and rapidly changing. Fifth-generation (5G) technologies are expected to be widely deployed and in use by 2020, providing faster broadband speeds and greater data capacity. New technology will allow for connectivity with multiple devices and drive automation and artificial intelligence in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing.
This broadband and cellular action plan is an important first step to ensure the people of Ontario can fully participate in the digital world, access public services, and enable businesses to grow and create jobs. Ontario’s proactive approach will ensure we stay competitive and open for business now and for decades to come. The government will continue to work with our partners in the private sector and at all levels of government to ensure the goals of this action plan are realized.