By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
– with files from René J. Roy
STEADY BROOK – Last Monday, Feb. 21, Premier Andrew Furey and MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains), Minister of Rural Economic Development, announced $136 million in funding to bring high-speed internet to rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The bulk of the funding, $116 million, was contributed by the federal government through the Universal Broadband Fund, and the provincial government contributed the remaining $20 million.
The project will help reach the goal of bringing internet services to 98 per cent of the country by 2026 and all Canadians by 2030. Part of the reasoning behind the initiative is the recognition by both levels of government that high-speed internet access will positively affect the economy in the province, which had been hit hard by the pandemic. By developing more high-speed internet services, the governments hope it will help create jobs and trigger economic growth.
Furey said that this is an investment in NL communities.
“It spurs economic growth and improves access to a range of services, from health care to educational opportunities. In my travels around the province, the need for reliable broadband is often raised by residents and community leaders – and our government has been committed to addressing it.”
Hutchings wants all residents to have reliable internet services.
“We need to close this connection gap and ensure that every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador has access to reliable high-speed internet – from Red Bay in Labrador to Tizzard’s Harbour, from Salvage to Cape Broyle, or from Wabana to right here in my backyard of Humber Valley.”
The Minister also observed that there is a clear need for reliable and affordable high-speed internet in the modern day, a fact that became more evident during the pandemic. Residents needed a reliable internet connection for children doing homework, people working from home, accessing online health care, and keeping in touch with family and friends.
“The rapid response was designed and delivered because of the pandemic. It was. We had our connectivity plans that were rolling out, the pandemic hit, and we said, ‘Oh my golly,” said Hutchings. “So, the rapid response, we’re accelerating the project to get it out the door to get Canadians and Newfoundland and Labradorians connected.”
There are still over 60,000 households in rural NL without access to reliable internet service.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the importance of being able to stay connected to one another virtually. Broadband connections have become vital to our everyday lives, to families, businesses, and future economic development. Virtual connections had to replace physical ones,” agreed Furey.
“It affords amazing opportunities, particularly in welcoming people from all over the world to make their new home right here, in spectacular Newfoundland and Labrador. To work from home, to create a new home. Whether it’s connecting to loved ones abroad or connecting your product to global markets, broadband is as essential as roads. It is a critical, crucial part of infrastructure.”
Work on getting reliable internet installed throughout the province has been ongoing for months, and applications for needed components have been received.
“The work has been done on assessing these applications, again, now in partnership with the province, and the province has been divided into 16 areas and zones. So what we’ll see is my colleagues will be making individual announcements in the zones that they’re in because we want to make sure that, like I said, that everything is covered. So you’re going to be seeing announcements made in the coming weeks in some areas,” stated Hutchings. “Ninety-eight per cent of the province is going to be connected by 2026, and the rest of the country, the rest of the province, by 2030. And trust me, a lot of it will be done in Newfoundland and Labrador before those dates.”