Rural broadband woes get attention

Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has promised 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.

“Too many rural communities can’t access essential services like education, healthcare or economic development because we don’t have the digital infrastructure to deliver them,” he said in a news release. “That’s why I’m committing a future Liberal government to 100 percent high-speed internet for every rural, remote and Northern community in our country.”

The Grit leader didn't detail how the goal would be achieved, but did say it would be paid for by using proceeds from the upcoming 700 Mhz spectrum auction, tentatively slated for 2011. A Liberal government would also seek to set a more ambitious goal for 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary, the release says.

The promise comes as the Conservative government is expected to announce shortly what groups will have divvy up $225 million set aside in the 2009 budget for helping rural communities improve access to broadband. Last fall it began accepting applications for projects to be funded with the money to “provide service to as many unserved and underserved Canadians as possible.”

Successful applicants will receive federal support equalling up to 50 per cent of their one‑time costs. Such costs include the purchase, adaptation or upgrade of equipment, hardware or software; long-term investments in network capacity (such as the lease of satellite transponder capacity); network deployment costs; and other costs directly related to extending broadband infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the federal telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommumications Commission, may also have its say when it starts a hearing Oct. 28 into what minimum phone services carriers are obliged to offer Canadians. Right now dial-up Internet access is one of the basic services local phone companies must offer.

Some groups wanting to force wireless carriers to offer service to far flung communities may try to raise the issue as the commission holds a separte review into wireless forebearance.

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