Canada expands high-speed internet to several rural areas of Hamilton

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Bell Canada in 2020 installed fibre optic connections as part of a $400-million contract signed with the city. The company is contributing another $626,000, along with the federal government's $352,000 to expand high-speed Internet connection to the rural parts of Ancaster, Dundas, Copetown and Millgrove. - Kevin Werner/Metroland file photo

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the most complaints he receives from rural residents of the city is the poor to limited internet connections businesses and homeowners have to rely on for work, health and schooling.

“It is one of the largest complaints we have from citizens (in the agricultural community),” said Eisenberger. “This is a key issue for any municipality.”

Now, at least 360 households in Millgrove, Copetown, Pleasant View Survey and Dundas are one step closer to becoming part of the high-speed internet highway after the federal government announced it is expanding connections by the end of 2021.

Hamilton Liberal MP and Federal Minister of Labour Filomena Tassi announced April 15 the government is providing $352,000 in federal funding for the project. In addition, Bell Canada is contributing $626,000, an increase to its $400 million 2020 contract with the city that has resulted in the installation of fibre optics connections across both the urban and rural areas of the city.

“Access to high-speed, high quality internet is essential,” said Tassi, especially during the pandemic.

The federal funding is part of a $150-million rapid response program to provide money to shovel-ready projects by the end of 2021. Last November the federal government announced the launch of the $1.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund to connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed internet of at least 50 megabits per seconds download by 2026 and achieve 100 per cent national connectivity by 2030.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has urged the federal government to expand broadband service for rural and remote parts of the province. In a submission to the federal government’s 2019 pre-budget consultation the federation requested an investment in rural internet expansion of about $100 million per year.

The federal government announced the $1.75-billion high-speed internet project in 2019, but waited until late 2020 to roll out the program.

Simon Dwyer, government relations director with Bell Canada, said the company is expected to be half-way completed on its contract with Hamilton by the end of 2021. He said about 100,000 or 45 per cent of city households will be able to connect to the internet. Once completed about 88 per cent of Hamilton’s households will be able to get high-speed connectivity.

“The vast majority will be fibre optic,” said Dwyer.

Eisenberger said the goal is to have the entire city connected but there will be a small portion of households that won’t have the connection because of location and will have to seek out alternative programs.

“The most difficult ones are the rural areas,” said Eisenberger. “We understand Bell’s challenge and count this as the next best way to get the broadband there. We want all of our city to be covered ultimately.”

Installing high-speed internet within the rural areas was identified by the Mayor’s Intelligent Community Task Force as a high priority to boost the city’s digital infrastructure.

Bell Canada’s project over the next four years include installing fibre network connections to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, including business parks, commercial areas and in urban and rural areas.

Bell Canada officials have stated residents will be able to access up to 1.5 gigabits per second through the new service. The company is also expanding high-speed Bell Wireless Home Internet service to about 8,000 homes in the city’s rural areas.