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Feds announce nearly $6.6M in funding to bring high-speed internet to rural Saskatchewan

Click to play video: 'Feds announce nearly $6.6M in funding to bring high-speed internet to rural Saskatchewan' Feds announce nearly $6.6M in funding to bring high-speed internet to rural Saskatchewan
WATCH: An announcement on Thursday from the Canadian government will soon improve connectivity for residents in rural and remote Saskatchewan – Feb 18, 2022

High-speed internet access is coming to more than 2,500 households in rural Saskatchewan, the federal government announced on Thursday.

A total of 10 projects will be funded under the Universal Broadband Fund’s (UBF) Rapid Response Stream.

Funding will be provided to the following communities:

  • $2.4 million for FlexNetworks for a project benefiting the communities of Neuhorst, Bradwell, Shields, Thode and Neuanlage as well as rural areas near the village of Clavet
  • $1.29 million for Prairie Crocus Rural Internet for a project benefiting the communities of Water Park Estates, Eagle Ridge Country Estates, Aberdeen and Shields
  • $528,909 for Access Communications Cooperative Limited for a project benefitting the communities of Macklin and Shaunavon
  • $458,271 for Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation
  • $1.9 million for Beardy’s & Okemasis’ Cree Nation

A majority of the projects are expected to be completed by the summer and offer service in the fall.

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Muscowpetung First Nation Chief Melissa Tavita said the project will make a huge difference within the community.

“All of our phones are on satellite internet and when the weather changes or when something blocks the satellite in the sky, it slows down the connection to the households,” Tavita told Global News.

Read more: New federal funding to connect 93 rural Manitoba communities to high-speed internet

Tavita said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better internet service as students transitioned to online learning and community members started working from home.

“We saw the need that we needed to do something and we needed to figure out a solution for our community to have access to high-speed internet,” Tavita said.

The community applied for a grant and will be working with Wood River Controls to implement high-speed internet.

“I think that’s a huge accomplishment and it’s just a bonus and a blessing on top to be one of the recipients to be granted the $458,000 to our community,” Tavita added.

Click to play video: 'Wood River Controls brings internet to rural Sask. residents' Wood River Controls brings internet to rural Sask. residents
Wood River Controls brings internet to rural Sask. residents – Mar 20, 2021

The federal government’s goal through the UBF is to connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026 and all Canadians by 2030.

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The Government of Canada has invested $2.75 billion into the UBF.

Minister of rural economic development Gudie Hutchings said the federal government understands the challenges with connectivity issues, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had kids doing their homework around the kitchen table, people working from home, businesses trying to put their products online and frankly, just keep in touch with friends and loved ones,” Hutchings said.

“The Band-Aid was ripped off the connectivity issue and brought to the forefront. However, for rural communities, including many in Saskatchewan, the lack of reliable internet made the difficulties of the pandemic even more profound,” the minister added.

The federal government previously approved more than $35 million in funding for seven projects in Saskatchewan to connect more than 18,000 households.

Read more: APAS report makes recommendations to improve mobile, internet service across Saskatchewan

Minister of northern affairs and responsible for prairies economic development Canada, Dan Vandal, echoed Hutchings’ comments.

“We are ensuring that rural communities in Saskatchewan are no longer limited in accessing the services that they need simply because they lack reliable broadband connectivity,” Vandal said.

Hutchings explained that communities who wanted to be selected for the program had to be “shovel ready.”

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She added they heard from communities, particularly smaller and Indigenous communities, that weren’t sure where to go for help so the federal government created what they call a pathfinder service.

Communities could call the service or visit their website where they would be supported through the application process.

Hutchings added there are 9,500 applications in the queue as they continue to designate funding through the UBF.

“It’s a combination of making sure, as I said we’re responsible for taxpayers money, so doing the due diligence to make sure that what the internet service provider is offering, is going to work in that area, to look at the overlap if there is any,” Hutching said.

“The other key part of this is affordability. When we rate these applications, affordability for Canadians is key in that.”

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