The Internet has become a vital tool, necessary to the everyday lives of most people around the region and across the province. The coronavirus pandemic has only made it more clear that having a strong and reliable Internet connection is needed by almost everyone, as we’ve shifted from the office and school to working from home and attending classes virtually.
There’s long been a divide between urban and rural areas when it comes to the speed and quality of Internet service, with government programs looking to close that gap. The latest funding will expand broadband service in rural areas.
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris and Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios last week in an online briefing with local mayors announced up to $11.9 million in funding to expand broadband infrastructure. Likewise, the federal government has invested $60 million in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Network, aimed at improving connectivity across the region. Combined with other partners, more than $191 million will help this project across southwestern Ontario.
“At a time when people have become more dependent than ever on broadband, having access to high-speed Internet is critical,” said Allan Thompson, board member with SWIFT and chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association. “SWIFT, together with our community leaders and local service providers, is committed to bringing southwestern Ontario’s underservices communities online and high-speed Internet access to thousands. Today, as a result of our public-private partnerships, SWIFT is proud to announce that many more homes and businesses in Waterloo Region will soon have greater access to reliable Internet services.”
SWIFT has issued requests for proposals (RFP), inviting prequalified service providers the chance to submit network designs to address gaps in service in areas eligible for funding. Harris says this RFP expansion is part of the governments broadband and cellular action plan, a five-year strategy which is expected to generated up to $1 billion in total investments. He notes the need for Internet has grown since people have begun to do more everyday work tasks from the comfort of home and pledges to do everything to ensure broadband is expanded to everyone who needs it in the region.
“I’ve heard loud and clear from my constituents how important broadband access is for individuals, families and businesses in rural areas,” said Harris.
Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, who joined the announcement call with the MPPs, noted how even her connection was poor and action was needed to give people better access to such a vital tool.
“COVID-19 has just amplified those concerns considerably. We’ve been talking about this for years now and I’m excited and happy to have provincial support to help us move ahead, we can’t do these projects alone,” said Shantz.
The RFP for Waterloo Region closes October 2, with a contract to be awarded thereafter.