The speech from the throne earlier this week promised a major infusion of infrastructure spending in the capital budget, and Friday, the province delivered. The lofty $134 million capital forecast is almost $38 million more than last year’s plan. The province’s self-proclaimed improved fiscal health is credited with allowing the government to make significant new investments.
One part of the new spending is especially intriguing. It was referenced in Tuesday’s speech and more details were provided in the capital plan. It includes up to $30 million over the next three years in a fibre ‘backbone’ to improve internet access to all communities across the province, especially rural areas.
This government keeps saying that its priority is building strong communities throughout the Island, and it all starts by providing infrastructure to drive development and growth. Increasingly, P.E.I.’s businesses and homes need access to higher speed and higher capacity services. There are more devices needing more internet capacity, and the sooner they are connected the better. The Island is small and it seems logical that installing a network to provide blanket coverage from tip to tip is an achievable goal.
The government is willing to work with business partners to achieve higher speed Internet services. It hopes to build on a close business relationship with providers and assist private enterprise by building a high-speed fibre network – or backbone – from tip to tip. Service providers will be able to connect to this network, making it easier for them to deliver higher-speed internet to communities and homes. Without a modern fibre network, small businesses and entrepreneurs are at a distinct disadvantage.
The government has been making high-speed internet promises since before 2008 and rural P.E.I. has usually been disappointed. Millions of dollars were spent but complaints never seemed to go away, whether for internet, telephone, television or cellphone services.
Areas of rural P.E.I. continue to have blackout zones or dark areas where communications are spotty or unavailable. In this age, it’s unacceptable. Perhaps this latest initiative will finally solve those problems. For $30 million, the excuses should end and hopefully cable providers will finally offer the type of coverage that Islanders need and deserve.
Who will own this network remains unclear. It was ambiguous in the speech and wasn’t clarified in the capital budget. But the province believes it has a winner and is proceeding with a lead role in this major investment even though many details haven’t been finalized.
Bell and Eastlink, P.E.I.’s two major fibre providers, must be excited at government’s cash and backbone promises. And this week, Xplornet let it be known that it isn't going to take a back seat. The company terms itself Canada’s leading rural high-speed Internet provider and has been busy building towers around the Island to bring faster, high-speed internet service to rural P.E.I.
The government is running out of time and excuses to deliver on its internet promises. Hopefully, it has finally reached a workable solution.