BC announces funding to improve internet connectivity in rural communities

Apr 24 2020, 5:10 pm

In what it says is a move to help rural communities during the pandemic, the BC government announced “targeted funding” today,” which it says will “give people in rural, remote and Indigenous communities in British Columbia access to faster internet services at a time when they need them most.”

The $50 million Connecting British Columbia program now includes a funding stream to help internet service providers with immediate network equipment upgrades to rapidly improve capacity and internet speeds in underserved communities throughout the province.

“People working from home, students learning remotely and families practising physical distancing all need to know they can depend on internet access during this public-health emergency,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Citizens’ Services. “Responding to the pandemic requires the best from all of us. Our communities need reliable internet access right now, and this new fund will get projects completed quickly.”

Physical distancing requirements mean more people are staying home to work, study, or be with their families, the government said. And internet service providers (ISPs) “have reported an increased demand on networks, which in some cases can cause slowdowns or even outages,” as a result.

As such, “connecting British Columbia’s COVID-19 response funding will enable ISPs to make immediate upgrades to their networks in order to better support the people who count on their services,” according to the province.

“The British Columbia Broadband Association really appreciates the effort to provide immediate assistance to internet service providers as they work to upgrade networks serving people during this public health emergency,” said Bob Allen, BCBA president. “Our members are excited to deliver new projects by the end of June that will provide immediate improvements to high-speed internet services for people.”

Internet service providers throughout the province can apply for grants of up to $50,000 — or 90% of their expenses — to cover the cost of equipment, including antennas, electronics or other types of devices that relate to the performance or range of their network.

These are types of network upgrades that can be completed quickly to significantly improve connectivity for people, rather than the traditional projects that usually require months or years to finish.

Applications are now being accepted by Northern Development Initiative Trust. Submissions will be reviewed on a first-come-first-served basis, with funding decisions made within three to five business days. Internet service providers must complete their projects by June 30, 2020.

“We all have to work together to protect the health and safety of our families and neighbours,” said Joel McKay, CEO, Northern Development Initiative Trust. “Immediate investments in network upgrades can help ensure that people have the reliable internet access they need, not just to work and study from home, but to keep in touch remotely with friends and family during this challenging time.”

Grants will be funded through the existing Connecting British Columbia program. Applications are being accepted for both the new COVID-19 response funding and the existing Phase 3 Connecting British Columbia quarterly intake.

Since July 2017, 479 communities, including 83 Indigenous communities, have benefited from completed or underway Connecting British Columbia high-speed internet connectivity projects.