Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning as well to all members of the committee. My name is Susan Hart, and I am the director general of the connecting Canadians branch, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, which administers two rural and remote broadband programs, the Connecting Canadians program and the Connect to Innovate program that was launched as part of federal budget 2016.
I am pleased to appear in front of this committee for the second time to provide an update on the newly launched Connect to Innovate program. I do have with me three other members from the department: my director of engineering, Luc Delorme; André Arbour, who is from the telecom policy branch; and Adam Scott, who is from the spectrum part of the department.
Since my last update before you in the spring, we have continued our effort towards bridging the digital divide across the country with the Connecting Canadians and Connect to Innovate programs. As some of you know all too well, the vast majority of urban Canadians have access to 50 megabits per second, while only 41% of rural households can claim access to such speeds. The gap is even larger for indigenous households. Schools, hospitals, first nation band offices, and courthouses in these communities do not have the broadband capacity needed to support their people.
Seventy-seven indigenous communities rely on satellite links for all their communications needs and face even greater challenges that make many things impossible, such as telemedicine and distant court hearings, to name a few. This explains in part why the demand on Connect to Innovate has been remarkably high.
Just to inform new members of this committee, the Connect to Innovate broadband program stems from a Budget 2016 initiative.
Before its launch, the parameters of the Connect to Innovate program were subject to considerable consultations with over 300 organizations.
The Connect to Innovate program is focused on investing in backbone networks, the digital highways that carry traffic among communities.
The consultations made it possible to expand these parameters and to include “last mile” projects. The submission period for Connect to Innovate funding applications ended on April 20, 2017.
We were popular. We received 892 projects totalling $4.4 billion in funding requests for a budget envelope of only $500 million. Applications came from all provinces and territories. The majority of the projects funded through Connect to Innovate will go towards backbone infrastructure. The investments will also result in improved residential service, which I know is of interest for some members of this committee. Connect to Innovate projects will enable more rural households to achieve the universal target of 50 megabits per second.
Over the past few months, my team and I started to assess these 892 projects based on the program objectives.
The successful projects have started to be announced and will continue to be approved through the fall and winter. To date, announcements under Connect to Innovate represent a total project value of $488 million, with a total investment of $177 million from the Connect to Innovate program.
For example, this summer the government announced a project covering all of Nunavut with high-throughput satellite backbone connectivity that will have more than 10 times the capacity of the existing service. Canadians in all 25 Nunavut communities will be able to do business online, participate in distance education, and search for jobs online.
The government also made an announcement in October for residents of five first nations communities in northern Ontario, who will be connected through a fibre-optic infrastructure.
These communities will soon be able to enjoy improved access to remote training and to new business avenues, thanks to a joint investment from the Government of Canada through Connect to Innovate and the Province of Ontario.
As stated by the CEO of the Matawa First Nations Management:
The Matawa first nations are thrilled with the funding investments for this legacy project that addresses our long-standing community concerns.
I have one last example, Mr. Chair.
Last Monday, the federal government and the Government of Quebec announced the funding of projects in the Mauricie region, as well as several projects in Quebec, whose details will soon be announced.
The implementation of these three Mauricie projects will provide high-speed Internet access to over 5,000 households.
We can find the details of these announcements on our website.
These are some examples of projects that will help close the digital divide. They will equip Canadians in rural and remote regions with the tools they need to compete in an increasingly digital and global economy.
As mentioned, the government will continue to announce projects over the coming weeks.
I would now be happy to answer any questions the committee may have on rural broadband in Canada.