Feds give conditional OK for rural broadband projects

Seventeen organizations, including some of the biggest names in telecommunications, have received “conditional approval” for 52 projects under Industry Canada’s rural broadband initiative program.

Industry minister Tony Clement said Sunday in Toronto that the projects, which total $76.7 million of the $225 million the Harper government set aside last year to bring broadband to rural and underserved communities.

Some 169,000 households would benefit from these projects, of which the government pays up to 50 per cent of the startup costs.

The announcement comes five days after Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff vowed that a future Liberal government will ensure every Canadian community has high-speed internet connectivity of at least 1.5 Mpbs within three years of being elected, and will expand mobile phone coverage for rural and remote Canada.

There was no explanation in a news release that accompanied the announcement of why the projects had conditional instead of full approval. However, in an interview Clement’s press secretary said contracts would be awarded to the successful organizations on condition they fulfil certain requirements

Among the larger providers is Quebec cable company Videotron Ltee and Barret Xplore of Woodstock, N.B., which specializes in bringing wireless broadband to remote communities.

Other tentative project winners are

–ABC (Allen Business) Communications Ltd. of Kelowna, B.C.;

–Corridor Communications Inc. of Calgary, a fixed WiMax provider;

–Cybernet Communications Ltd. of Smithers, B.C.;

–FlexiNET Broadband Inc. of Cranbrook, B.C.;

–GwaiiTel Society, a broadband provider to ISPs and business serving seven Haida Gwaii communites in B.C.;

–Manitoba NetSet Ltd.

–Naskapi Imuun Inc.


–Northern Broadband Ltd.

–Northwestel Inc.

–OmniGlobe Networks of Montreal, a world-wide broadband andsatellite provider to underserved communities and resource companies working in unserved areas;

–OmniGlobe Broadband Inc. of Stratford, Ont.;

–PCC Communications Inc. of Calgary;

–Whapmagoostui Eeyouch Economic Development Corporation, a Cree community at the mouth of Great Whale River in Quebec.

For a full list of projects click here.

As part of the government’s 2009-2010 budge the Conservatives set aisde $225 million over three years to fund efforst to extend broadband coverage. The biggest component is the segment dubbed Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians. Last fall it released a list of some 60 areas that needed coverage and invited the private sector to apply for subsidies to fund coverage. Several hundred organizations filed applications by the end of October.

“I am delighted that, as a result of today’s announcement, so many individuals, families and businesses across Canada will soon have access to high-speed Internet service for the first time,” Industry minister Tony Clement said in a news release. “Canada is poised to make great strides into the digital economy of the 21st century, and this news is a major part of our strategy.”

The projects announced Sunday reach communities both big and small because some residences within sizeable municipalites still can’t get broadband. For example, Corridor Communications projects in Alberta not only includes the community of Forty Mile but also the city of Lethbridge.

Others will reach Inuit or native communities scattered across the northern parts of the nation. For example, Northern Broadband Ltd. aims to serve 25 communities in Nunavut. Videotron aims to serve the nothern Quebec areas of Lac-St-Jean-Est, Fjord-du-Saguenay, Maria-Chapdelaine, Domaine-du-Roy.
The announcement of the press conference was sent to media after 9 p.m. Friday night, and the announcement itself was made at a coffee shop in Mississauga, Ont.
“It’s long overdue,” said telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg, who was at the Sunday morning press conference. “One of the concerns has to be that the Connecting Rural Canadians program has been out there for some time.” He acknowledged that it likely took the government some time to evaluate the applications. The approvals are conditional, he added, because the applicants still have to prove to Ottawa that they have the private funding that will go along with the government grants.
“The flip side, though, is that until decisions are made the program could have the counter-effect of holding back investment in rural Canada because service providers wanted to know the status of whether subsiders were being given to their projects or not … There’s certainly been some questions about what’s going on, and what’s taking the amount of time.”
Still, he said there must be some relief among providers that the initial conditional approvals have been made.
John Maduri, CEO of Barret Xplore, said on Monday that he’s “very pleased” the projects his company applied for have conditional approval. The five communities are mainly in northern Quebec, he said. One of the five include the neighboring communities of Kamouraska, Rivière-du-loup, Témiscouata, Les Basques, Rimouski-Neigette, La Mitis, Matane et La Matapédia.
“We’re looking forward to working with these communities to get broadband to 100 per cent of the residents,” he said in an interview.
Barrett will serve the communites by one of two wireless technologies: Either fixed WiMax, which will link to a Interent backbone through microwave or by a two-way link to a Ka-band satellite. Maduri was in Stratford, Ont., for Clement’s announcement of a national consulation to create a digital economy strategy and didn’t have the cost of the projects with him.
He said now that conditional approval has been granted providers will have to negotiate final contract terms with Ottawa. Some of the projects, he said, will need environmental approval for antenna towers.