Madam Chair and honourable committee members, my name is Barry Field. I am the executive director of Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology, commonly referred to as SWIFT.
SWIFT is a non-profit regional broadband program governed by the Western Ontario Wardens Caucus, the town of Caledon, Niagara Region and Waterloo Region. SWIFT's mandate is to eliminate the digital divide within southwestern Ontario, an area with a population of over three and a half million, representing 10% of Canada's population.
Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your important deliberations regarding accessibility and affordability of telecommunications services. While accessibility and affordability are both important components of this discussion, my area of concentration is accessibility, and I'll focus my comments accordingly.
SWIFT has recently completed the procurement phase of our first project, called SWIFT 1.0. The project is funded by the Governments of Canada and Ontario, each contributing $64 million, and over $20 million in contributions from our municipal members. SWIFT is grateful for these contributions and works diligently to ensure that these public funds are spent in the most effective, efficient and equitable means possible.
The primary goal of the SWIFT 1.0 project is to provide broadband services meeting or exceeding the CRTC's universal service objective to 50,000 underserved premises within the SWIFT catchment area, on or before June 2023.
Secondary goals include ensuring 3,100 kilometres of new fibre construction, and $65.5 million in private sector investment in the form of contributions from the Internet service providers, or ISPs.
I'm excited to announce to you today that SWIFT has concluded the procurement phase of our project, has exceeded all these targets and is currently working with the ISPs to implement these important projects.
The SWIFT 1.0 project has exceeded the premise's target by 26%, the fibre construction target by 30% and the private sector investment target by 93%. By all measures, this regional project has been an overwhelming success. Yet a tremendous amount of work remains.
Through the development and execution of the SWIFT 1.0 program, we've learned several lessons. I'd like to pass them on to you today, in hopes of influencing the design of future broadband strategies.
First, one size does not fit all. There are geographic differences among regions in Canada, and they can't all be shoehorned into a single model. We need to consider differences in settlement patterns, availability of data and existing broadband market dynamics, to name a few.
In southwestern Ontario alone there are major cities, towns, villages, hamlets, clustered seasonal shoreline developments and mass expanses of low-density agrarian settlement. The variability of settlement patterns in combination with existing market dynamics has a substantial impact on who provides existing services and how they expand those services. The variability in these dynamics increases as you zoom out to the national level.
Second, all ISPs, regardless of their size, have a part to play in helping us solve this problem. In certain circumstances, the small ISPs are more willing and better suited to provide service to areas that larger ISPs are not. The proposed solution can't be designed to exclude the participation of small ISPs.
Third, all three levels of government must co-operate and work together to solve this problem. Competing programs at the federal, provincial and municipal levels make it difficult for ISPs to access funding, and do little to take advantage of opportunities to leverage contributions from all three levels of government.
Within southwestern Ontario today there are no fewer than five active government programs, all trying to solve the same problem in the same geography. The CRTC's broadband fund, the connect to innovate program, the universal broadband fund, Ontario's ICON program and the SWIFT program are all active. Combining the substantial contributions of all three levels of government would make it easier for the ISPs to participate and would leverage all those funds into a single, larger funding bucket.
Fourth, technology choices should be a regional consideration. Referring to my first comment that one size does not fit all, differences across geographies must be taken into account when determining the best technologies to consider when funding projects. The variability of settlement patterns and market dynamics among regions will influence the feasibility of filling the gap with fibre versus wireless and low-earth orbit, or LEO, technologies.
Finally, further funding is required by all levels of government. The combined contribution of all of the programs available today will not solve the problem. In southwestern Ontario alone, we require approximately $1 billion worth of investment above and beyond the current programs in order to reach the target of 95% of the population served by 2026. The current commitment from the federal government, while substantial, is simply not enough to solve the problem.
Madam Chair, you've heard from other witnesses at this committee that Canada needs a coordinated broadband strategy. The current strategy, Canada's connectivity strategy, is well-intended and has solid elements; however, it's not being implemented in a coordinated manner to ensure effective, efficient and equitable outcomes across the country.
The existing federal approach of having multiple disjointed funding programs that are not aligned with provincial and municipal partners causes an overlap of responsibility, a duplication of effort on the part of the ISPs when applying for funding, and a duplication of administrative overhead. It risks having different programs funding the same projects, and it distracts the federal government from what should be its central role of providing equitable distribution of funds.
Like other infrastructure programs in Canada, funding for broadband programs should be transferred from the federal government to the provinces and territories, and they should be charged with coordinating contributions at the provincial and municipal levels in order to ensure that effective, efficient and equitable solutions are being implemented in their jurisdictions.
I thank you once again for the opportunity to speak here today, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.