Ontario’s education minister is calling on Ottawa to “expedite” federal funding to address a lack of broadband access in the province.
In an open letter to the federal government, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the “future success of Ontario’s students” depends on suitable internet connectivity across the province.
“As the provincial response to the COVID-19 outbreak continues, people across Ontario are relying on access to the internet to maintain normalcy, including learning and working from home, ordering household essentials and connecting with friends and family,” Lecce’s letter read.
“Over the next months and years, internet access will also be central to the recovery and growth of our economy. We are advocating for immediate action to improve internet connectivity and broadband access for students across Ontario.”
Lecce added that reliable and affordable internet service is the “backbone” of province’s ‘Learn at Home’ strategy, which requires nearly 2,000,000 students across Ontario to access learning materials and tools online.
“While most residents in Ontario have access to the internet, the speed, quality, and cost vary significantly across the province. There are coverage gaps in rural and northern communities, as well as some urban areas,” the letter continued.
“Existing internet connectivity gaps prevent many elementary and secondary students from accessing the same learning made available to all other Ontario students, affecting education equity.”
The provincial government has set aside $315 million over the next five years to expand broadband and cellular infrastructure across Ontario but Lecce said the province would like to see the federal government come forward with funding now.
“With our emphasis in preparing students for the jobs of the future, it is critical that the federal government accelerate funding and work to support affordable, high-speed connections to households in Ontario,” the letter read.
Lecce did not specifically say how much money the province is requesting from the federal government.
“Our total provincial investment is designed to leverage over $1 billion from industry and other levels of government to connect and improve connections for as many people as possible,” the letter noted.
“Federal and provincial governments cannot tackle this challenge alone, making our collaboration instrumental for the people of Ontario.”
In an interview Lecce said the federal government has already set aside money to invest in expanding broadband access around the country.
“They have over a billion dollars set aside for broadband delivery,” Lecce said. “The federal government has investments that they could accelerate that could help the province and we want to partner with them.”