Dozens of remote and rural communities struggle to stay connected with a lack of internet access, but on Tuesday, the federal government made a multi-million dollar funding announcement that will help bring more households online.
Ottawa is pitching in $11.2 million for FlexNetworks to bring high-speed internet access to 21 communities between Regina and Saskatoon. FlexNetworks is contributing another $3.7 million for a combined total of $14.9 million.
Ralph Goodale, public safety and emergency preparedness minister, said high-speed internet access will “level the playing field” for the communities around Last Mountain Lake and Blackstrap Lake.
“It’s not a frill, it’s a necessity. And it’s a necessity not only in urban centres but in rural and remote communities too,” Goodale said. “It’s a question of equal opportunity.”
Goodale said internet access will help market businesses, allow people to work from home and give people access to online emergency services.
“Essential infrastructure, in this day and age, includes not only streets and highways and transit and water systems and affordable housing. It also includes access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet service,” Goodale said.
The project is part of the federal government’s Connect to Innovate program that aims to bring 90 per cent of Canadian households online by 2021, 95 per cent by 2026 and full coverage to remote areas by 2030.
“Those will be the most remote, difficult to serve communities and may well require satellite technology in addition to what might be available through ground service,” Goodale said.
Last year, the federal government committed to bringing high-speed internet access to 30 communities northeast of Prince Albert. Some communities already have access and the majority of work is expected to be completed before the winter of 2019.
The infrastructure between Regina and Saskatoon is expected to be up and running by December 2021. Once it’s complete, FlexNetworks has the option to lease out the network to other internet providers such as SaskTel. The company can also act as its own provider.
Global News reached out to SaskTel for a comment on the infrastructure announcement.
In an email statement, SaskTel said it’s “proud to currently offer high-speed internet services to 99 per cent of the population of the province and we remain committed to delivering the best possible communications and entertainment services to the people of Saskatchewan.”