Universal Broadband Fund and Telesat low Earth orbit capacity agreement

Backgrounder

Connectivity Strategy

The Government of Canada published Canada’s Connectivity Strategy in June 2019. The strategy committed to connecting every Canadian—by 2030—to affordable, high-speed Internet no matter where they live and to improving mobile cellular access from coast to coast to coast. The Universal Broadband Fund is a key action under the strategy, along with other complementary measures such as improving access to spectrum, reducing barriers to investment, and providing broadband funding from other federal entities including the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Infrastructure Canada and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB).

The federal government engaged extensively with partners, stakeholders and Canadians to ensure that the Universal Broadband Fund responds to the needs of rural communities.

In developing the program, we have met with Internet service providers (ISP), municipal organizations, Indigenous organizations, and provinces and territories, and we accepted feedback from Canadians through our website, to ensure that the Universal Broadband Fund responds to needs identified by all partners and stakeholders.  All past applicants to recent broadband programs were surveyed to solicit feedback on program design. 

Universal Broadband Fund

Budget 2019 committed $1.7 billion starting in 2019–2020 for a suite of new broadband initiatives. Included in this funding was $1 billion to launch the Universal Broadband Fund. The remaining funding was for a top-up to the Connect to Innovate program and to secure low Earth orbit satellite capacity.  

Accelerating an ambitious Universal Broadband Fund  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much we all rely on digital connections now. It has reinforced the importance of access to high-speed Internet as, now more than ever, Canadians are working, learning and communicating with friends and family from home.

For this reason, the Government of Canada increased the funding available through the Universal Broadband Fund from $1 billion, announced in Budget 2019, to $1.75 billion.

The government is providing up to $750 million in additional funding, which means the government will ensure 98% of Canadians are connected by 2026, an increase from the previous commitment of 95% of Canadians in Canada’s Connectivity Strategy.

Multi-pronged approach to getting Canadians connected

1) Rapid Response Stream

While infrastructure projects typically take years to design, plan and complete, it is important that the Government of Canada capitalize on any solutions that are ready and can help address immediate needs.

To help accelerate the timeline for connecting all Canadians, the Government of Canada is including a Rapid Response Stream for the Universal Broadband Fund, making up to $150 million available for projects that will be completed quickly and will provide Canadians service by November 15, 2021.

2) Large-Impact Projects

Canada needs a combination of projects to solve our connectivity challenge—large and small, regional- and community-based, driven by large ISPs and by local companies and communities.  To advance large, high-impact projects, with the ability to leverage many sources of funding, ISED is looking to partner with the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), with a view to identifying larger projects with strong economic fundamentals. These projects must be transformative in terms of results and scope—targeting a large number of households. As a business case, it makes sense to involve the CIB, which is available to offer low-cost loans for broadband projects.

3) Support for a Diversity of Projects

The Government of Canada has always been committed to ensuring that programs are open to any potential applicant that is capable of delivering a high-quality project.  The Connect to Innovate program supported a range of projects—projects from small ISPs, municipal-led projects, Indigenous projects, as well as projects from the larger ISPs.

To ensure a diversity of applicants that reflect community needs, the Universal Broadband Fund is dedicating resources to help applicants that need support to build partnerships, understand available sources of funding and navigate the application process. This will ensure the Universal Broadband Fund can support the needs of all applicants, but especially smaller applicants such as municipalities or Indigenous groups. The pathfinder service includes support via phone or email, ongoing updates to frequently asked questions, and webinars.

4) Mobility Projects Benefitting Indigenous Peoples

The Universal Broadband Fund includes $50 million dedicated to improving mobile Internet availability in areas of benefit to Indigenous communities. This includes projects along highways and roads, and in Indigenous communities, where mobile connectivity is lacking.

Eligibility and selection

The Universal Broadband Fund allows almost any Canadian entity to submit an application; however, individuals and federal entities are excluded from applying to the program. Eligible applicants must have the ability to design, build and run broadband infrastructure and must identify who will build, own and operate the broadband network.

Projects will be selected using a three-stage assessment process that will ensure that applications from a wide variety of applicants across Canada can be considered. Ultimately, the projects that will be selected will be those that best meet the objectives of the program.

It is anticipated that successful projects will be announced starting in early 2021.

Telesat low Earth orbit capacity agreement

The Government of Canada has entered into an agreement with Telesat to secure high-speed Internet capacity over Canada through the company’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. Telesat’s constellation will utilize next-generation technology to significantly improve connectivity in rural and remote Canada, including the far north.

Under the agreement, the Government has committed up to $600 million to secure capacity on Telesat’s LEO satellite constellation. This capacity will be made available to Internet service providers at a reduced rate in order to provide high-speed, reliable Internet access to the most challenging rural and remote communities in Canada.

Other federal programs

ISED is coordinating with federal and provincial partners to ensure that new rural broadband projects are built efficiently.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) $750 million Broadband Fund will also help to improve connectivity across the country.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank's $2 billion broadband initiative will accelerate connectivity in underserved communities by focusing on the development and execution of large, high-impact projects.

The $2 billion Rural and Northern Communities stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program allocates funding to the provinces and territories, and it supports broadband infrastructure, as well as food security, transportation, energy and other projects of value to Canada’s rural and remote communities.

The Federal Gas Tax Fund offers annual funding to support local governments in a number of priorities, including broadband and connectivity.

Building upon success to date

The Government of Canada has made billions of dollars available, through several programs, to support the building of rural and remote Internet infrastructure, including $1.75 billion under the Universal Broadband Fund.

We have made great strides through our Connect to Innovate program, and the enhanced Universal Broadband Fund will build on this success.

Through the Connect to Innovate program, we are on track to connect 35,000 homes by the end of 2020, ramping up to nearly 400,000 homes by the end of the program in 2023.

At the same time, through the UBF investment, the government is taking immediate action by launching a new $150 million Rapid Response Stream to fund shovel-ready projects that can bring high-speed Internet to communities within the next 12 months.

By 2026, we will connect another 1.2 million Canadian families with better, faster Internet. By then, 98% of Canadians will be connected.

We will not stop until every Canadian is connected.

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