Rural areas hope to get some of $2.8 billion broadband funds in Ontario budget

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Rural parts of Ontario could benefit from a provincial pledge to spend an additional $2.8 billion over five years for improved cellular phone service and broadband internet in underserved areas.

The announcement is being welcomed by a collection of cities, towns and counties in Eastern Ontario that have requested at least $1.2 billion in public and private funds for fast internet service across their area.

Debbie Robinson, who is chair of the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus and warden of Renfrew County west of Ottawa, says she’s hopeful the province will spend about $200 million for their broadband project.

The Ford government’s budget says the pandemic increased awareness that many rural and sparsely populated areas needed access to faster, more reliable networks for homes, schools and businesses.

It estimates that as many as 700,000 households in Ontario don’t have acceptable broadband service through wireless connections and fibre optic cables.

The budget forecasts 52,000 households will benefit from the spending this year but the pace will speed up next year, so that a total of 700,000 more households have access to reliable broadband by 2025.