The Ministry of Citizens’ Services announced a $50 million investment towards internet expansion into rural areas and First Nations communities. (Lakes District News file photo)

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services announced a $50 million investment towards internet expansion into rural areas and First Nations communities. (Lakes District News file photo)

Government gives $50 million for rural internet

The provincial government’s recent announcement of $50 million for internet expansion for rural areas was greeted with enthusiasm by local authorities.

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services said on March 8 the connectivity investment was the largest in British Columbia history and would help link up around 200 rural and Indigenous communities.

The funding will be disbursed after applications from communities and internet service providers have been filed with the Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT), Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Whittier told Lakes District News.

“This announcement is another exciting development for northern B.C,” Burns Lake mayor Dolores Funk said.

“Improved connectivity is a key component to improving quality of life for residents within the Lakes District as well as creating opportunities for resident attraction and further economic development/diversification. Similar to improvements in transportation, improvements in connectivity are difficult to quantify but will literally create positive impacts for every sector and individual,” she explained.

Gerry Thiessen, chair of the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) said he is glad “to see senior levels of government understand the need [for] rural BC in making sure our citizens have full access to information. This $50 million announcement will bring rural BC one step closer to our vision for full internet connectivity.”

That vision is an essential part of the RDBN’s future, Thiessen explained.

“We want to make our region a place that people are attracted to and where people will stay. For that we need good, strong internet coverage. It’s like the highway when my parents came here in the 1940s, because that was a priority to develop the area. Today – it’s the internet, especially for young people to develop businesses.”

The RDBN board last December discussed a $42 million fibre optic internet proposal that would see the district play a “last mile” role in expanding fibre internet to homes and businesses in the district.

READ MORE: $42M fibre internet expansion bid needs more study, RDBN says

However, the proposal was put aside for the time being after the board agreed it needs more discussion.

Thiessen said the announcement of the $50 million for rural internet doesn’t affect the move to put the fibre plan on hold.

“We would revisit it again once the funding becomes clear. And after we have conversations with the internet providers.”

The RDBN chair added that the next steps will be known once the NDIT clarifies the critiera for the funding.

The criteria is still being written up and it wasn’t yet known when it would be released, said NDIT spokeswoman Holly Plato, who added that the organization was still working on committing the existing $15.5 million earmarked under the Connecting BC internet expansion program which was announced in 2015.


Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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