Pictured following a meeting on August 28 at the Judique Community Centre were (from the left): Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway, former Inverness Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie and federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan.

DOMINION: While the MP for Cape Breton-Canso is very happy with federal efforts to provide better Internet service, the MLA for Inverness still has many questions for the province.

MP Mike Kelloway said after months of hard work, he is happy to announce the country’s first national strategy to achieve universal connectivity, backed up by billions of dollars in federal funding. This involves projects and programs to connect more than 1.7 million Canadian households to better, faster internet.

“We’ve been working on it for almost a year,” he noted. “The 1.75 million is predominately for rural Canada.”

On November 9, Kelloway confirmed the launch of an enhanced and expanded Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), to help improve high-speed Internet access and mobile connectivity across Canada, including Cape Breton-Canso.

Originally designed as a $1 billion program, the federal government increased funding for the UBF to $1.75 billion, to advance large, high-impact projects, which will leverage partnerships including with the Canada Infrastructure Bank broadband initiative.

The UBF will also allocate $50 million of its total budget for mobile Internet projects that primarily benefit Indigenous peoples.

“That’s one that targets a large number of households,” Kelloway noted. “Then there’s one that focuses on Indigenous communities. The eligible applicants, they have to have the ability to design, and build, and run the broadband infrastructure. That’s municipalities, that could be private entities, that could be a collaboration of private and public entities.”

The program now includes a $150 million Rapid Response Stream, which is an accelerated application process that will allow shovel-ready projects to get started right away. The application period is now open and community partners are encouraged to apply for funding.

“That’s for projects that will be completed quickly and provide Canadians with service by November 15, 2021,” Kelloway explained.

The federal government also highlighted a $600 million agreement with Canadian satellite company Telesat to secure low-earth-orbit satellite capacity, which will improve connectivity and expand high-speed Internet coverage to rural and remote regions across Canada.

“That’s just low orbiting satellites for areas that are more complicated to get broadband to,” Kelloway said.

Kelloway hopes to organize a meeting between local groups and minister Marian Monsef soon, and in the meantime, he is working to match these programs and projects with each community.

“For me now, it’s unpacking the money and getting it into the right hands,” he stated. “I can literally name the spots in my riding where broadband is weak or not good at all. It was absolutely a driving piece in the last election.”

On November 12, Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster said questions remain about which communities will get access to high speed Internet, two months after a deal was signed between the provincial government and Bell.

“It is hard to believe the provincial government has signed agreements with Bell, and offered them millions of dollars, without first knowing what homes will get a fibre op connection,” he said.

While maps have been released for Cheticamp and Inverness, MacMaster said no maps have been released for other communities that have been told they are going to benefit. Some communities have not been named and may not be included for development, he asserted.

“Glendale, Creignish, and many other locations have not been named which is leading those residents to wonder if they have been forgotten,” he asked.

According to MacMaster, other questions remain, such as whether taxpayers should subsidize Bell to continue to provide slower Internet speeds and higher monthly bills for people in rural areas while people in the city get better service.

“Until these questions are answered, we will not know how well the provincial government has done with the Bell deal,” he added. “If the premier would allow the legislature to go back to work, these are the questions we would be asking the government. They can escape for now, but someday they will have to answer to voters.”