Province earmarks $50 million to close broadband gap

The provincial government is putting $50 million towards delivering high-speed internet service to about 200 rural and Indigenous communities across B.C.

Northern Development Initiative Trust will administer the money and will be used to lever further money from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's $750-million broadband fund.

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The province's share is the "largest ever investment to connect British Columbians with modern internet services" made by the government, B.C. Citizen Services Minister Jinny Sims said during a media event Friday in Prince George

The aim is to close the gap between rural and urban areas so that all Canadians have access to speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, as well as access to mobile wireless services including on major transportation roads.

"Investments on connectivity are opening doors, bringing people together, providing new opportunities and creating local jobs," Sims said.

NDIT CEO Joel McKay said it will be up to the internet service providers to apply for the funding and added their proposals should be "well integrated with what the community wants."

With the possible exception of Prince George and Fort St. John, McKay said every community in northern B.C. could use the help.

NDIT has also previously administered a $10 million fund for "last mile" projects that brought internet service to more than 43,000 homes and businesses in rural and remote regions, spread over 417 communities, including 74 indigenous communities.

NDIT is also overseeing a $40 million fund focused on fibre optic.

In March 2018, $7.1 million of that total was committed to Shaw Communications Inc. to install a fibre optic loop along Highway 97 from Prince George to Dawson Creek. That project is still in the planning stages, McKay said Friday.

Once completed, the hope is it will provide the impetus to attract a data centre to Prince George. Coun. Garth Frizzell has said getting that second loop has been a "constant refrain" because it will provide the redundancy the facilities need to continue to provide service should there be trouble with the loop running from Vancouver to Prince George.

Lynda Pattie, executive director of AscenTECH Solutions, a Prince George-based technology services provider, said high technology one of is one of the "fastest-growing sectors in B.C."

"There are tremendous opportunities for rural and remote areas and First Nations communities to benefit from these services," Pattie said. "By connecting a rural and remote community to the rest of the world, the entire social fabric of the community is strengthened.

"Telehealth, telemedicine and e-learning are all key services that can be provisioned effectively in connecte communities and they can make an incredible difference to the people that live and work in those communities."

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