QUÉBEC – On March 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Québec Premier François Legault announced they are partnering with internet service providers (ISPs) like Vidéotron, Cogeco, Bell, Xplornet, Sogetel, and TELUS to launch Canada-Québec Operation High Speed to connect nearly 150,000 homes to high-speed internet by September 2022. This includes investing $147.4 million to connect 29,000 households in the Outaouais.
The provincial and federal governments will equally split the cost of the $826.3 million investment, which will include establishing firm deadlines with penalties in ISP contracts to ensure targets are met.
“We announced an unprecedented agreement on high-speed internet to start a major acceleration of the rollout throughout Québec. This is a giant leap towards fulfilling our commitment to connect all Quebecers by fall 2022. The pandemic has demonstrated that high-speed is an essential service, especially when starting and developing a business. It’s a vital economic lever for the growth of all our regions,” said Legault.
According to Pontiac MP William Amos, ISPs will be assigned particular regions or sub-regions and likely more than one will be responsible for the Outaouais. Negotiations have been underway for weeks and decisions will be made quickly, he added.
“The governments are taking the bull by the horns to make sure everyone is connected to fibre…and by far, the Outaouais is getting the most out of all the regions. This makes it clear how big the problem is here, but also how many tax dollars are going into what has been determined as our biggest infrastructure need,” he told the Journal, noting better connectivity will boost immigration to the Pontiac.
Aside from providing some residents with their first connection to high speed, the funding could create more options for consumers who already have it, said Amos, which in turn could make services more affordable because of increased competition.
Amos explained that the investment involved redirecting funds from the Québec portion of the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) and significantly adding to it. Projects approved through the UBF’s rapid response stream (deadline January 15) will move forward, but the remainder of the fund no longer exists. This impacts Connexion Fibre Picanoc (CFP), a wireless company the MRC Pontiac and Vallée de la Gatineau created in 2007 in partnership with the Western Quebec and CSHBO school boards.
CFP recently applied to the UBF’s general stream for a $68 million project to
connect around 13,000 residents in the two MRCs to high-speed internet at 50/10 Megabits per second (Mbps). They also applied to the rapid response stream to connect 493 households in the Grand-Remous region.
“CFP is listed as a prospective ISP for the new funding, but it will be up to them and the government to determine what their path will be,” said Amos.
Bernard Roy, MRC Pontiac director general and CFP president said the announcement is a huge victory for the Pontiac, but for CFP, it’s a case of “wait and see.”
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) $750 million fund launched in November 2019 will remain intact. CFP submitted a $57 million proposal to this fund in June 2020 to connect 6,788 underserved households in MRC Pontiac and Vallée-de-la-Gatineau to the basic high-speed fibre network. The application is still under review, with an answer expected before June.