The Federal Budget
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland released the federal budget on April 19th. It is a historic budget in many ways to address the historic times we are in, as we recover from the pandemic.
From a communications industry perspective, we applaud the various measures announced to further enhance rural connectivity in Canada. First, the government has allocated an additional $1 Billion towards rural connectivity, over 6 years starting in 2021-22 through the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). According to the government’s estimates, this infusion of additional money will help achieve 98% high-speed coverage by 2026. We wrote about rural connectivity in December 2020 (here) saying that it will take a partnership between government and industry to ensure that we can bridge the rural divide. This new commitment takes UBF funding to $2.75¹ Billion and estimated Federal funds towards all rural connectivity to $7 Billion². The estimated funds exclude additional millions being spent by the provinces.
Second, the government has allocated $6 Billion over 5 years, starting in 2021-22 towards Indigenous peoples-directed infrastructure. The large infrastructure category includes all-weather roads, northern airstrips, broadband, health care and education facilities. This investment aligns with our ongoing commitment to help provide more connectivity in rural and remote regions. For example we recently announced a partnership with the province of British Columbia and the Federal government to improve cellular connectivity on Highway 16 , also know as the Highway of Tears between Prince Rupert and Prince George³. For decades, this highway has been the tragic location of many missing and murdered women, particularly Indigenous women, who were unable to call for help due to coverage gaps.
Third, the government will amend the Telecommunications Act to allow the industry regulator, the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to share more information with federal, provincial, and territorial broadband partners. The government will also take steps to avoid unnecessary delays in respect of CRTC decisions to allocate funding to recipients to expand access to telecommunications services in underserved areas.
We know Canada is not alone in making such commitments. Other developed countries are pressing ahead to reduce the connectivity gaps as well. For example, the new US administration has announced a $100 Billion broadband fund, mostly to tackle connectivity issues⁴. Recently, the Italian government announced that it will spend €6.7 Billion (approximately C$10 Billion), an increase of 60% of its previous target on expansion of its broadband network⁵.
We at Rogers continue to connect Canadians. As part of the Rogers-Shaw merger proposal, we are proud to announce a new $1 Billion fund dedicated to connecting rural, remote and Indigenous communities to high-speed Internet across Canada’s four Western provinces.
The pandemic has really put a focus on the difference online connectivity makes to people’s lives especially as we have had to study and work from home. This latest budget rightfully calls out that any investment in broadband is an investment in jobs and growth⁶. We couldn’t agree more.
Charit Katoch is Director of Public Policy at Rogers
¹ Page 154 Budget document (Budget 2021)
² Based on prior estimates of $6 Billion and $1 Billion in budget 2021
³ Complete cellular connectivity coming to “Highway of Tears” (newswire.ca)
⁴ What’s in Biden’s Infrastructure Plan? – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
⁵ Italy to use EUR6.7bn EU funds on broadband expansion (commsupdate.com)
⁶ Page 24, Budget document (Budget 2021)