Supporting broadband and internet expansion

By MPP Toby Barrett

For years, I have been hearing from people in the riding – and I hear these complaints in my own home as well – about poor internet service.

As we have seen in the past, it’s important the expansion of broadband must be affordable. The problem always remains that it can cost several thousand dollars to lay a mile of fibre in rural areas where the cost cannot be offset by communities of denser population.

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. These costs are also a financial barrier to expansion in rural, remote and northern areas. Complex permitting and approval processes can also create challenges.

Ontario’s recently-introduced Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021 aims to remove barriers to help ensure timely deployment of reliable, high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas throughout Ontario. This legislation would, if passed, remove barriers to help build better infrastructure faster, strengthen communities, and boost the economy.

Through the proposed legislation, the government wants to accelerate broadband infrastructure deployment by providing the Minister of Infrastructure with the authority to reduce barriers on provincially significant projects, including the ability to:

  • ensure municipalities and utility companies provide timely access to their infrastructure, including municipal rights of way and hydro utility poles, when appropriate.
  • support an approach to reduce the time it takes to prepare electricity infrastructure such as hydro utility poles for a new wireline attachment for provincially significant projects.
  • ensure owners of underground infrastructure provide locations of their infrastructure within 10 business days for specific broadband projects prior to a dig through the Ontario One call system. This would allow internet service providers to more quickly start work on laying down underground broadband infrastructure.

Our proposed legislation, if passed, would help connect individuals and families to reliable broadband across our community, and get more people back to work as the province recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Norfolk is part of SWIFT – a partnership of Southwestern Ontario municipalities, also including Caledon, Six Nations, the Niagara Region, London, Waterloo and Windsor. The aim is to enable the expansion of fibre-optic networks by lessening the financial burden on service providers when it is too expensive to build high-speed infrastructure.  SWIFT initiatives are moving forward north of Waterford and in the Turkey Point-Normandale area.

Haldimand county did not opt into the SWIFT program.  Haldimand also has considerable issues with connection, and therefore the county is working on separate initiatives to provide internet to underserved areas.

I’ve been meeting with the Six Nations connectivity/broadband task force. The group recently welcomed news that some homes and businesses are included in a major expansion of fibre-optic services being led by Xplornet with the backing of SWIFT and the federal and provincial governments.

We have made inroads connecting more local areas to high speed, but there is still a long way to go. Access to broadband is a lifestyle consideration for the majority of people these days – especially our young people. If we want rural Ontario, and agriculture and business, to remain attractive to future generations we must work to ensure access to reliable broadband.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk