High Speed internet is now considered an essential service in Canada
VICTORIA – Thousands more people in rural and Indigenous communities are benefiting from improved high-speed internet in British Columbia. This year, initiatives supported by the Province’s Connecting British Columbia program were completed in 147 communities, benefiting an estimated 11,121 households. Since July 2017, projects to improve high-speed internet access are underway or complete in over 500 communities, including 87 Indigenous communities.
“This has been a challenging year for all of us. Due to COVID-19, we have seen how connectivity is an essential service that British Columbians deserve to have access to,” said Lisa Beare, Minister of Citizens’ Services. “I want to extend my deep appreciation to everyone who has worked with us to connect more homes and businesses during this difficult time. Together, we will continue to expand connectivity and support people as our economy recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Two connectivity projects have been recently completed with support from the Connecting British Columbia Program, benefiting the T’exelcemc in Williams Lake 1 (Williams Lake First Nation) and the community of South Hazelton.
With high-speed internet, people in Williams Lake 1 no longer need to share a single connection to the Band office. Residents can now enjoy reliable internet access at speeds comparable to Vancouver and Victoria, thanks to a Telus project supported with funds from the Province.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our people were finding it difficult to do things as simple as send an email or check the internet for the latest information on the public health emergency,” said Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars. “The arrival of high-speed internet helped the community take steps to protect the health and safety of our people and Elders, and it also enabled our membership to conduct business, communicate and recreate in ways that much of the Canadian population takes for granted.”
The connectivity upgrade in South Hazelton has brought new possibilities to people living in the community as the Gitxsan Development Corporation works to transform the site of a former sawmill into an economic hub employing more than 100 people in the region. Two major manufacturing plants have been proposed for the area and all Gitxsan businesses are relocating their offices there as part of an effort that would not be possible without high-speed internet access.
“Internet access is fundamental to the way we do business today, especially during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the usual way of doing things. We appreciate the work of CityWest Cable and Telephone and the support provided by the B.C. government to bring connectivity to South Hazelton,” said Kelsey Harmse, director, strategic initiatives for the Gitxsan Development Corporation. “We are working hard to grow the economy and create jobs that support families along the Skeena. Grants from the Connecting British Columbia program have played an important role in this effort.”
Funding under the Northern Development Initiative Trust’s $50-million Connecting British Columbia program, announced and funded by the Province in March 2019, began accepting applications for rapid response grants in April 2020. By September 2020, 47 projects to improve the performance and reliability of internet access in rural and Indigenous communities were completed.
As part of the StrongerBC plan, the Province increased funding in September 2020 for Connecting British Columbia with a one-time, $90-million grant to Northern Development Initiative Trust. The trust is accepting applications for projects under the Connecting British Columbia Economic Recovery Intake.
The Connecting British Columbia program will offer grants to service providers applying to the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund rapid response stream, making it possible to cover 90%, or up to $5 million, of eligible project costs by combining both grants.
“British Columbia saw incredible success with its COVID-19 rapid response, and we at Northern Development are proud to have supported these efforts,” said Joel McKay, CEO, Northern Development Initiative Trust. “To keep this momentum going as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the trust is making it easier for internet service providers to access provincial funds to quickly upgrade networks serving people in rural and Indigenous communities.”
Continued investment in the Connecting British Columbia program is moving the province closer to a future where all people in B.C. have reliable, affordable broadband.