By MPP Toby Barrett
Connecting Ontario to fast reliable internet has been an initiative of our government since elected in 2018.
Recently, Ontario announced it would move forward with the ambitious plan to bring high-speed internet to all communities across the province by 2025. This $4 billion commitment is the largest single investment in high-speed internet, in any province, by any government in Canadian history.
On the heels of this announcement, we learned the Featherstone Point area in Haldimand is part of a $1.92 million project to connect up to 2,860 households in our part of Ontario. Twelve other projects, across 42 unserved or underserved communities, also received funding with a combined total of $14.7 million. As a result, another 17,000 households will experience reliable, high-speed internet.
The Ministry of Infrastructure has also introduced a new innovative procurement process. Infrastructure Ontario will lead the procurement process that will begin this summer. This transparent and competitive process will enable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid for provincial support through a series of reverse auction events for defined geographic areas, and based on requirements for high-speed internet infrastructure deployment.
Many of us learned the importance of being able to connect, and stay connected, over the past 16 months. Many of us conducted our daily business via email and virtual meetings from home, as we had no other choice as we all worked to stop the spread of COVID-19. Our young people and educators were also online for school, which saw its own set of challenges. We also had to access vital services like health care, and the internet was, for many, the only way to connect with family and friends. Sadly, too many Ontarians could not connect or stay connected – my office continues to receive many calls about this.
One area that often is forgotten when we speak of high-speed internet, is farm Ontario. Agriculture is evolving and farmers adapt to technology to be competitive. As farming becomes increasingly land and labour intensive, technology must be far more controlled and accurate. Farmers cannot remain compliant and competitive when they cannot effectively do business online or file documents. Modern agriculture requires connectivity for a variety of jobs, checking the weather, checking the markets. Affordable broadband is essential across rural Ontario to access e-commerce, close deals, process payments, share information and connect with customers and with markets.
For far too long decision-makers have based high-speed investments on population density. Low population density, variable terrain and high infrastructure costs, create a limited business case for private sector investment. We saw this as a barrier for our farmers and for our rural families, and we are committed to fixing this.
Ontario is going all in on internet. Our ambitious plan will ensure that every household and business, in every community – including up to 1.4 million Ontarians – can participate in the digital economy and contribute to our province’s recovery. It will mean access to vital services like health care, education, employment and justice, while increasing economic and entrepreneurial opportunity for everyone. Over the coming weeks, the province plans to announce more projects to bring connectivity to communities throughout the province.
When it comes to accessing our digital world, everyone will have the opportunity to do so.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk