$50 million dollars is now available for high-speed internet projects in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
This the largest-ever funding intake of the Connecting British Columbia program.
Internet service providers, including those operated by local governments or community non-profits, can submit applications for the funding, according to Ravi Kahlon, Parliamentary Secretary for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
The investment will double the total provincial funding made available, says Kahlon.
“Many of our rural and Indigenous communities, traditionally dependent on resource industries like forestry, are working hard to diversify and strengthen their economies. Not having access to high-speed internet can be an incredible challenge for businesses looking to make investments or hire new workers,” says Kahlon. “Extending the reach of our digital infrastructure into new areas of the province supports the creation of new opportunities for investment and business growth that help rural communities thrive.”
The Cariboo is a very large and rural and remote area and the bulk of it does not have high-speed internet, says Cariboo Regional District Chair Margo Wagner.
“The Cariboo Regional District is working towards a strategy to, as we are now able to offer through the announcement from the government a while back, we can actually run our own internet service. We’re not ready yet but we’re working towards it. There’s a broadband committee that is put in place within the Cariboo Regional District,” she says. “We’re hopeful that within a few months we’ll be able to make an application both through the Province and through the Feds.”
Wagner says she couldn’t stress how important internet is in rural areas.
“It is not just an extra in life now it’s become a necessity. We don’t have a lot of cell service either and when you don’t have either or it makes it really tough to do business long distance, to communicate with family and friends. All of the things that people who live in larger communities take for granted.”
The project completion comes on the heels of 200 homes and business in the Deka And Sulphurous Lake now having access to highspeed internet.
“The Connecting British Columbia program helps make high-speed internet access a reality in rural and remote communities,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Citizens’ Services. “The completion of this project means residents of Deka Lake and Sulphurous Lake now have improved access to much-needed services like education, health and emergency response.”
Roger Stratton, owner of the Horse Lake Garden Centre, says their business used to be very simple.
“We had dial-up for doing our transactions if people wanted to do debit. A lot of people used cash and we did newsletters through email so we didn’t need a lot of data.”
Their vendors would always supply things with catalogues, he says.
“Obviously, that’s not what it is today,” says Stratton. “Our customers expect like they do in the Lower Mainland or in Kelowna or wherever that they can put the card in and it’s done in seconds and it is. It’s fabulous.”
Vendor-wise everything is digital, he says, catalogues come in digitally, which is great but they’re massive files because there are a lot of pictures.
“So now we have to do all that online. All our orders are online. Everything is seamless but again you need highspeed to be able to do it. When it goes down, it’s a real problem.”
Falko Kadenbach, vice-president of ABC Communications, says they’ve got nothing definite in regards to local communities but adds that they have recently put an application forward for a project with 11 communities.
“We’re looking to hear back on that soon and the connection between the broadband fund, it’s the national program, and the provincial fund I think is very exciting. We’re still looking to weed into the criteria of these programs as they relate to each other.”
On a population basis, about 92 per cent of British Columbians have access to CRTC standard of 50 Mbps down 10 Mbps, said a spokesperson at the announcement. However, when on a community basis, 70 per cent, currently, of rural communities do not meet that standard and 75 per cent of rural First Nations do not meet that standard and that’s what we’re working towards, she added.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says it’s good news for rural British Columbia but brought the focus back to the logging industry.
“Where is the help for our loggers, our truckers, our people that [have] been displaced in the forest industry and our small businesses? This is great news but there is more important things in this that need to be addressed very quickly.”