The federal government and Ontario provincial government are making a combined $69.2 million broadband investment into Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” region, ministers announced on Friday morning.
The funding is intended to bring broadband Internet access to five different First Nations communities that live in the remote area of Northwestern Ontario, north of Thunder Bay and west of James Bay. The area is known as the Ring of Fire because of the rich mineral resources there, and has been identified by the provincial government as an economic opportunity.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said the federal government will invest $37.1 million, dedicated to Rapid Lynx Telecommunications to install about 880 km of new fibre-optic cable.
“We know that the Internet is no longer a luxury and access is now an essential part of everyday life,” Bains said. “Canadians go online to connect with friends and family, for education, health services, entertainment, and shopping. Faster Internat connections allow Canadians to get skills and training they need to qualify for well-paying jobs.”
Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle said the province will invest up to $30 million for the Matawa First Nations Management Inc. to bring fibre-optic cable to the area.
“Our government recognizes that the availability of high‑speed Internet infrastructure is critical for economic development and access to important resources and services such as health care and education,” Gravelle said.
Another $2.1 million for the project comes from the federal First Nation Infrastructure Fund via Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, a program intended to advance public infrastructure for First Nations.
For many of the communities, the Internet serves as the best connection to the rest of Ontario and Canada. The remote First Nations are only accessible by plane, or during the winter freeze-up when trucks can travel in. But that could change soon, as Ontario has committed to funding two all-weather roads that will link the area to Ontario’s highway system as part of a $1 billion infrastructure project. That is slated to be under construction by 2019.
Last December, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission declared that broadband Internet is a basic telecommunications service that should be delivered to all regions across the country.