Province falls short on broadband internet promises, says NDP

The province has failed to stick to its promise to provide broadband internet access across northern Ontario by 2025, says Sudbury MPP Jamie West. 

West, who is with the NDP, cited a recent report from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario which found the Ministry of Infrastructure decreased its spending on broadband and cellular infrastructure by $207 million in the third quarter of 2021-2022.

“Doug Ford is not going to keep his promise to provide broadband internet by 2025,” West said.

He said many northern Ontario communities still lack access to broadband internet, and the service is now a necessity.

“I think that like a lot of things, COVID put a huge magnifying glass on this,” he said. 

“And so you were hearing from families that were driving for an hour sometimes to get to a Tim Hortons so they could hotspot off the Wi-Fi that was there in order to download school information.”

In an email to CBC News the Ministry of Infrastructure said the government remains committed to invest $4 billion to provide broadband internet access to all parts of the province by the end of 2025.

“The financial accountability officer’s report identified areas where there were unspent funds, which included broadband and cellular infrastructure,” the email said. “These funds remain available to provide access to reliable high-speed internet.”

It added the province introduced the Getting Ontario Connected Act on March 7.  

“The competitive process being led by Infrastructure Ontario is also coming to a close,” the email said. 

“Through these efforts, we are well on our way to bringing high-speed internet to every community by the end of 2025.”

Jamie West is the MPP for Sudbury. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

West added commitments from the province are needed because there is not a strong enough business case for the private sector to provide broadband services in rural and remote communities.

“You need to seriously provide the infrastructure in place. The private sector won’t do it,” he said. “There’s not enough customers for the private sector to come in.”

But others have argued satellite internet service providers like Starlink could bridge the gap for high speed internet access in remote areas.

Danny Whalen, a Temiskaming Shores city councillor and the president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, told CBC news he expects the province to fall short on its promises to connect northern Ontario to broadband internet services. 

“They keep promising and it slowly is happening. It will be 15 years before some of our northern communities even get a hint of it,” he said.

Whalen has been a vocal supporter of Starlink, but said the service doesn’t eliminate the need for public internet infrastructure.

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