Internet upgrades are coming to 150 rural communities across New Brunswick.
A joint project from the federal and provincial governments will bring access to high-speed internet to 73,000 New Brunswick households, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc announced at an event on Friday in Moncton.
LeBlanc said this is the next step in the government’s plan to bring faster internet speeds to rural New Brunswick over the next four years.
“Now more than ever and — COVID-19 has certainly made this clear — residents in rural areas need reliable broadband high-speed internet service to access educational resources, help their business grow and access essential services, including medical service from a distance,” said LeBlanc.
In July 2019, LeBlanc said, the federal government unveiled a $40-million contribution to the expansion project. It was announced Friday that Xplornet, the company undertaking the upgrades, is also investing $91 million into service upgrade.
“An important observation that has been made during the COVID-19 pandemic is an increased sense of urgency for access to quality broadband,” said New Brunswick Environment and Climate Change Minister Gary Crossman, who is also minister responsible for the Regional Development Corporation.
“Today’s announcement is another example of how our government is committed to energizing the private sector and building vibrant and sustainable communities.”
The first phase will entail upgrading wireless services for rural New Brunswickers, said Allison Lenehan, Xplornet Communications president and CEO.
“We are trying to get started with faster speeds today,” he said, “and over the next two years we will continue to build infrastructure in behind that.”
He said the company plans to expand its fibre-optic network into rural homes in the 150 communities over the next two years.
New Brunswick’s official Opposition said the timeline could be hastened if New Brunswick also makes an investment in its infrastructure.
“Phase 1 was started under our government when we were there so there is not new money from the Higgs government for this new project,” said interim Liberal Party Leader Roger Melanson.
Criticism of slow process
The province has received criticism from municipal politicians and residents over the perceived lack of follow-through from the province.
Earlier this month, Global News reported that officials in the village of Doaktown were discouraged that a promised upgrade for high-speed internet had stalled out.
According to Bell Canada, Doaktown was one of four communities identified in July to receive a 5G pilot project that was supposed to be in place by the end of 2020.
But that project has not happened.
Doaktown Coun. Art O’Donnell told Global News that a lack of reliable high-speed internet is putting his and other rural communities at a disadvantage.
The second phase of the project has the goal of providing 63,000 rural households with access to internet service with up to 100 megabits per second while providing an additional 10,000 rural households located in remote areas of the province with access to satellite service of up to 25 megabits per second.
Finally, the goal is to ensure 97 per cent of the province’s rural households have access to broadband internet at the universal service objective speed or higher. The remaining three per cent of rural households receive broadband internet by satellite.
Lenehan says the fibre-optic roll-out could happen faster if the province loosens its regulations around accessing existing infrastructure to extend the fibre service.
He said under current regulations it can take up to a year to get approval from the province to run new fibre line to a single telephone pole.