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Quebec invests millions for high-speed internet in the regions

Quebec to bring high speed internet to the regions.
Quebec to bring high speed internet to the regions. Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Promised repeatedly for years by politicians of all levels and allegiances, the deployment of high-speed internet in the regions of Quebec could be completed by 2021, if the projections of Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation, come true.

Minister Fitzgibbon on Friday launched a $100 million tender for digital infrastructure projects in Shawinigan to bring the service to 70,000 rural households that were not covered through joint programs with the federal government or the CRTC.

“What I’m aiming for is that somewhere in 2021, there will be contracts all over Quebec to deploy internet (high speed). When will they be effective? I do not know; it will depend on the telecommunications companies, but there will be a date where we can say: it’s done, we signed the contracts, it will be done in the coming years and everyone will be connected,” said the minister in an interview with The Canadian Press.

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The program, called “Connected Regions”, aims to provide service to some 70,000 households and thousands of businesses located in areas that are only partially served by broadband internet service. It targets areas where service is uneven because some areas were not eligible for the first program, “Quebec Connected”, and will also elude the next calls for tenders from the federal government.

Will the money be available after the elections?

Quebec estimates that 340,000 households do not have access to high-speed internet and has allocated $400 million to address this gap. Of this number, 110,000 households included in the first installment of “Quebec Connected,” and connected jointly with Ottawa is currently being rolled out.

Some 160,000 more will be covered either through the second Quebec-Ottawa component of “Quebec Connected,” or with another program in collaboration with the CRTC for which the amounts have already been set next to.

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“In the two cases, and unfortunately I cannot tell you when, because there is one end of the equation that I do not control, but I think that with the CRTC it will go very quickly, the money is there and I think the federal money will be there too,” he said, while acknowledging that some uncertainty could hang over the election since the funds were provided for in a Liberal budget.

“We will see if the Liberals take power, majority, minority, I guess we will continue. If they are the Conservatives, I am quite confident because (…) I have a hard time believing that a government, no matter what, could not respect this commitment,” said the minister.

Fitzgibbon: “I’m not waiting for the federal government.”

On the other hand, the 70,000 households targeted by Friday’s call for tenders were not covered by these programs, hence the Minister’s decision to release $100 million from his overall envelope of $400 million to cover the service alone.

“I do not wait for the federal government; I’ll do it immediately. I will be the only decision maker so it is only myself that I can blame in three years if we did nothing. With this $100 million we are going to take areas that we do not think are eligible for the next federal program and we are doing them right now,” said Fitzgibbon.

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For this program, interested companies have until Nov. 18 to submit their bids. These will have to guarantee a minimum capacity of 50 megabits per second for downloading and 10 megabits per second for uploading.

It should be noted that the program is designed to allow RCMs, school boards and band councils to propose projects in collaboration with internet service providers.

Partially satisfied business people.

The business community has obviously welcomed this announcement. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents SMEs said in a statement that “more than one in two SMEs tells us they are not connected to a better internet connection because of the lack of a better offer in their region.”

CFIB is also careful to add that “since the government is funding the new digital infrastructure, we expect the rates for an optimal internet connection to be competitive and reasonable even in remote areas,” while regretting that the announcement does not include a component for broadband cellular coverage in the region. CFIB wants Quebec to “take swift action to correct this inequity.”

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For its part, the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce (FCCQ) sees in this announcement “a first action (…) to ensure access to broadband internet service to the regions of Quebec that are still not or partially served.”

The Federation argues that such infrastructures are “necessary for the economic development” of the regions and represent “an essential ingredient for growth.” Recalling that with this announcement, there will still be 160,000 homes to connect in the region.

The FCCQ believes that the federal government that will be elected on Monday should place this realization as a priority and suggests that, for future calls for projects, “the two governments agree to further coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication and inconsistency.”