Regional businesses to benefit from $71M in funding for high-speed internet access

Mobile internet tower

As the federal and provincial governments invest more money into bringing high-speed internet access to Eastern Ontario, it isn’t just residents who will reap the benefits.

Federal rural economic development minister Gudie Hutchings recently announced $71 million in combined federal and provincial funding to enable Bell Canada and Cogeco to bring stable high-speed internet access to Eastern Ontario.

The funding will impact 22,000 homes from 74 rural communities across Eastern Ontario, the government said, but is also an “imperative” investment in local business, according to an official with the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.

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Shelbi McFarlane, business development officer with the counties, said reliable internet access is “imperative to the success of businesses across Leeds and Grenville,” where many of the communities impacted by the funding are situated.

“We have seen first-hand how local businesses are impacted in their ability to serve their customers and grow their business when access to stable high-speed internet is secured,” said McFarlane. “With reliable internet connections, we will continue to attract remote workers, entrepreneurs and investors, leading to job creation and increased productivity. 

“All rural businesses need to compete on a level playing field to expand their customer base and boost community economic growth.”

Businesses could benefit from improved e-commerce abilities with access to high-speed internet, while entrepreneurs would have more options for workshops, support and business-building resources. From her experience with the Digital Main Street program, McFarlane said reliable internet opens doors for businesses to create online stores and digitize their marketing.

High-speed internet also provides more freedom for remote work, she added. As more workplaces shift to a remote work model, businesses in Eastern Ontario cannot always keep up with a digital workplace due to limited internet access.

Also, reliable internet allows tourists to extend their stays, permitting them to work remotely while travelling, she added.

Of the communities affected, Battersea, Inverary and Marysville in Frontenac County will be served by Cogeco; while Bell Canada will be responsible for the other 71 communities, which include Dwyer Hill, Perth, Merrickville, Spencerville, Kemptville, Mountain and Smith’s Falls. 

In a news release announcing the funding, Matt Wickham, vice-president and general manager of customer experience at Cogeco, said the Montreal-based provider is “extremely proud to make our first expansion” into the townships of Frontenac Islands and South Frontenac. 

Bruce Furlong, senior vice-president of access, engineering and deployment at Bell Canada, added that the partnerships will “contribute to our shared goal of reducing the digital divide, ensuring all Ontarians have access to high-speed internet.”

The recent funding is part of the Canada–Ontario broadband partnership, announced in July 2021, to support large-scale, fibre-based projects that will provide high-speed internet access to more than 280,000 homes across the province. This agreement is supported by a joint federal-provincial investment totalling more than $1.2 billion.

The investment marks a “significant milestone” in the federal government’s commitment to connect all Canadians to high-speed internet by 2030, Hutchings said. The provincial government’s goal is to bring reliable high-speed internet access to every community by the end of 2025.

“We all know that the internet is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity,” Hutchings said.

Many municipalities across Eastern Ontario, including Leeds and Grenville, have been working with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network to build connectivity in the vast region, as well as with the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, partnerships that McFarlane said will help overcome any gaps in the Bell and Cogeco services.

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