Ontario commits $150 million to improve broadband and cell service in rural communities

Ontario’s government will roll out $150 million in cost-share funding through its Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program as part of its plan to build broadband and cellular service in rural areas.

ICON is part of the province’s $315 million initiative called Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.

When leveraged, ICON has the potential to result in an investment of up to $500 million in total partner funding to improve connectivity in underserved and unserved areas, according to the province.

Applicants, including telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits, may submit proposals and commit investment, expertise, and experience to improve connectivity in communities across Ontario. The province will fund a portion of each approved project.

“By investing in reliable broadband and cellular service, we are helping to create greater opportunity for our families, farmers and small business owners in rural and remote areas of this great province,” says Premier Doug Ford.

As many as 12 per cent of households in Ontario, mostly in rural and remote areas, are underserved or unserved, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

As part of the announcement, the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, stressed the importance of rural broadband for at-home education and telecommuting — both situations spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and expected to continue for several months. Working from home is also expected to continue for many more in Ontario long-term.

The ICON program is the latest to address poor rural broadband in Ontario. The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) is set to leverage $213 million to improve access in Eastern Ontario, and the $190 million project Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) has awarded contracts in Lambton, Wellington, and Norfolk counties.

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