At their meeting on July 2, the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (WOWC) approved a series of recommendations to support rural broadband in southwestern Ontario. Increased funding from both the province of Ontario and the government of Canada is urgently needed to address southwestern Ontario’s large connectivity gaps, so that we can close the digital divide and restart our economies.
The WOWC is a not-for-profit organization representing 15 upper and single tier municipalities in southwestern Ontario, representing more than three million residents. The WOWC aims to enhance the prosperity and overall wellbeing of rural and small urban communities across the region. Caucus members work collectively to influence federal and provincial legislation and programs through advocacy, research and analysis and education.
In order to reduce the digital divide within southwestern Ontario, and to achieve the government of Canada’s target, in which 95% of homes and businesses will have access to internet speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps by 2026, it will cost an estimated $1 billion.
The WOWC and the participating SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology Inc. (SWIFT) municipalities of Caledon, Niagara and Waterloo are requesting direct funding to SWIFT from the government of Canada in the amount of $254 million and from the government of Ontario in the amount of $221 million. Combined with a $174 million commitment from public-private partnerships, WOWC intends to successfully address the $1 billion southwestern Ontario infrastructure deficit and achieve the interim goal of providing 50/10 broadband services to 95% of the population within the region by 2025.
In addition, WOWC is also requesting that the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Broadband Fund and the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) Universal Broadband Fund each allocate 10% of their funds directly to Southwestern Ontario (based on population share of total for Canada).
“The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus supports the funding of existing shovel ready, municipally led projects that will connect our rural economies at an accelerated pace. We support SWIFT as Southwestern Ontario’s funding mechanism to advance the expansion of critical broadband infrastructure across the region,” said Jim Ginn, Chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, Warden Huron County.
“Broadband is critical in moving the economy in Southwestern Ontario forward. We have heard from our business community loud and clear that in order to remain competitive, access to reliable internet is key,” said George Bridge, Chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus Economic Development Committee and Mayor Town of Minto.
“Families and businesses in our rural areas have been shut out of the economy and society as a result of the pandemic. COVID -19 has underscored the need for urgency to address gaps in broadband services across our region. The SWIFT model works, it delivers results and can be immediately leveraged to upgrade networks and coverage in our region’s underserved areas,” said George Cornell, Vice-Chair of SWIFT, Warden of Simcoe County.
“At a time when people have become more dependent than ever on broadband, having access to high-speed internet is critical. SWIFT, together with our community leaders and local service providers, is committed to bringing Southwestern Ontario’s underserviced communities online and high-speed internet access to thousands,” said Allan Thompson, Mayor Town of Caledon, SWIFT Board Member and the Chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.
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