Canadians living in rural eastern Ontario could have access to gigabit internet in as little as three to five years, according to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN).

On Aug. 11, EORN announced that it’s looking to raise CA$1.6 billion through public-private funding to bring gigabit fibre to rural communities in eastern Ontario. The $1.6 billion ask is in line with its previous estimate to bring fibre internet services to rural residents in Canada. The project is one of the most ambitious funding calls in the organization’s history and marks a significant step towards levelling internet speeds in rural areas with urban centres.

“It would be a game-changer for our region,” said Jim Pine, EORN’s co-lead. “We decided that it was important to fix the problem once and for all for a generation through the gig project, rather than always trying to incrementally catch up to the minimum. It really requires the contributions of financial contributions from Ontario and from Canada to get the project actually started. If we had approvals to go forward in the next little while, we could have shovels in the ground next year.”

Pine speculated that at the earliest, the project would be completed within three to five years. Once finished, residents in Ontario’s rural regions would have access to gigabit internet access, which is 20 times faster than the 50Mbps download speeds recommended by the CRTC in 2017.

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The project would be difficult without public and private sector collaboration due to a market failure. During the interview, Pine noted that there just isn’t enough business cases to drive funding from the private sector alone. The public-private model, of which the government would partially subsidize the cost, has worked well for EORN the past.

In a previous interview, Chris Pereira, senior director of public affairs at Huawei Canada, underscored the important role network quality plays in creating new business opportunities.

“Yes, there’s no immediate profit,” he said. “But if you bring a tower to a place like Iqaluit, for example, and let that ecosystem build under the coverage from high-speed internet, you get new businesses that are formed, you might get a larger population in the area. You get growth because it’s like bringing electricity to a town. Suddenly, people can operate a business.”

The new fund isn’t EORN’s first foray to get rural Canadians better connected. Between 2010 to 2015, EORN helped to raise $175 million in improving fixed internet quality using traditional internet technologies like DSL and fixed wireless. Now, it’s also focusing on improving cellular service through a $213 million public-private partnership.

On its Broadband Fund application page, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) showed that only 40.8 per cent of rural communities have access to broadband at 50/10Mbps–just 3 per cent higher than it was in 2017. In contrast, over 85 per cent of users in urban centres have access to that speed.



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