JOHN MCPHEE ([email protected])
“The large telcos (telecommunications companies) aren’t interested in serving less dense populations so it seems to have fallen to municipalities and other groups to try and extend that.”
- Don Clarke, Mayor of Berwick
As a municipal leader, Peter Muttart welcomes any financial boost from other levels of government.
So he’s eager to hear the details of how Kings County can tap into the $1.7-billion for high-speed internet access that the federal government set aside in its March budget.
“We’re already invested as a municipality in the broadband game inasmuch as we’re going to be rolling out broadband to our municipality starting this year,” the warden said in an interview Thursday after federal Rural Economic Development Minister Bernadette Jordan unveiled the plan behind the federal Liberals’ high-speed internet fund.
“So we’ll be on the poles this year and within two years we’ll have (fibre-optic) broadband through 85 per cent of our municipality. . . . But that leaves 15 per cent unserved so the only way we can get 100 per cent is to be able to access programs such as, I imagine, are being described here.”
Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister of rural economic development, speaks with Don Clarke, the mayor of Berwick, at the Ross Farm Museum in New Ross on Thursday. Jordan unveiled the Liberal government’s million in funding to expand rural internet access in Canada. - John McPheeBesides the high-speed internet plan, Jordan, who is MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, also spoke about her department’s new rural economic development strategy at the Ross Farm Museum in New Ross.
The high-speed internet plan emphasizes importance of creating partnerships with municipalities, community groups and businesses in the move toward universal high-speed internet access (at least 50 megabits per second for downloads and 10 mbps for uploads) by 2030.
A highlight of the economic development plan is the creation of the Centre for Rural Economic Development in Ottawa. That office will help Canadians with such things as navigating the application process for rural funding projects.
As Canada’s first-ever rural economic development minister, Jordan has toured the country to get a sense of what’s important to rural people. She said the lack of access to high-speed internet comes up regularly in her conversations with Canadians.
“So we want to make sure as we build it in the next phase with the universal broadband that we address the concerns that they’ve had,” Jordan told reporters after making her remarks.
The minister said the $1.7 billion can be leveraged into the $6 billion range with contributions from other federal agencies such as the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission and the infrastructure fund.
About 70 per cent of Nova Scotians have access to high-speed internet, mostly in urban areas, said Deborah Page, director of marketing and communications for Develop Nova Scotia, the agency responsible for implementing the province’s $193-million Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust.
The trust was created last year to support community-based internet networks and other groups to bring high-speed rural broadband access to underserved areas in Nova Scotia.
“Our initiative has an objective to ensure we reach a minimum of 95 per cent of rural Nova Scotia homes and businesses” for high-speed internet access, Page said. The agency doesn’t have a set timeline but it usually takes two to five years to implement that kind of province-wide program.
She expects her agency will be involved in leveraging the federal internet money into Nova Scotia projects and talks are ongoing on how that can be done.
Berwick Mayor Don Clarke, who’s also a member of the Valley Community Fibre Network, said the money “is certainly a shot in the arm” to rural communities working to improve access to the internet.
His network, which includes Valley municipalities, Acadia University and the Nova Scotia Community College, was created 10 years ago.
“The large telcos (telecommunications companies) aren’t interested in serving less dense populations so it seems to have fallen to municipalities and other groups to try and extend that,” said Clarke, who was one of many community leaders, business people and residents who packed a Ross Farm Museum conference room for Jordan’s announcement.
Andrew Button, whose Bridgewater/Chester company Mashup Lab provides services to help entrepreneurs start their ventures, said good internet access is crucial for rural business people.
“Just as an example, one of our flagship programs is called Our Dream Business, we put 100 people through that program to create 63 different businesses in 55 different communities across Nova Scotia in the last 18 months,” he said. “So there’s no shortage of entrepreneurial talent in those rural communities and 90 per cent of that programming gets delivered online virtually.
“Right now people are hacking their way around the rural internet challenge and it’s just one other barrier that just gets in their way sometimes in getting a new business off the ground.”