Changes to Local Government Act could provide better Internet to Area A

Internet in rural areas of the province, like Golden and Area A, is set to benefit from expanded high-speed Internet, the province says.

Regional districts across the province have been asking for improved connectivity to allow residents to access high-speed Internet service. Updates to the Local Government Act should provide more options for people living in rural and remote areas to connect with friends and family, purchase goods and services, access health care services, expand their business, or even telecommute,Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Ministry of Citizens’ Services stated in a press release.

“High speed Internet and cell coverage for Area A continues to be a priority for the Area A director,” said Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) Area A director Karen Cathcart. “In the strategic planning process for the CSRD this past February, telecommunications was identified as such.”

Cathcart has been working with the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, which is a subsidiary of the Columbia Basin Trust, to try to move the issue of slow and inaccessible Internet issues forward. The Broadband Corporation has been conducting a study in the Basin to identify Internet and cell issues in the area that residents face every day. Cathcart has spoken with ministers and advocated for higher Internet speeds to connect the people in the area to important news, government documents, and recreational web browsing.

READ MORE: Some rural residents still without adequate Internet services

New standards in high-speed Internet service align with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, and require minimum speeds of 50 megabits per second when downloading information and 10 megabits per second when uploading information.

“The Columbia Basin Broadband corporation continues to work toward solutions for rural British Columbia. The topic of the importance of high-speed Internet and cell coverage has captures the ear of the federal levels. So much so, that (the) Federation of Canadian Municipalities has made rural connectivity a priority,” Cathcart said.

There have been a handful of federal govenrment projexts over the years, like Connecting Canadians, that have supported neighbourhoods in Area A through higher Internet speeds through FlexiNET, but most of Area A remains without high speed Internet, relying on satelite Internet to provide service, which can be slow and unreliable.

Connect to Innovate, a government project, identified $4.5 billion in funding requests around the province, with a provincial budget of $500 million, Cathcart explained last year.

Some changes in the Local Government Act enable regional districts to provide financing for capital costs to Internet service providers, where it may not have otherwise made sense for them. The province says this will help advance construction of new connectivity infrastructure for rural and remote communities.

Changes to the Local Government Act reflect that high-speed Internet has become a basic service, like telephone, natural gas, and electricity.

“High-speed internet is not a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity in today’s digital world. This legislative change will empower regional districts to help bring this vital service to residents in a way that meets the specific needs of their communities,” said Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens’ Services in a press release. “The greatest successes in expanding broadband in rural areas have come when all levels of government, the private sector and community groups work together to make the most of this essential infrastructure for local businesses and people.”

Updates to the Local Government Act respond to needs identified by local governments through resolutions endorsed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

READ MORE: High-speed Internet coming to 200 rural B.C. communities

Projects to improve high-speed Internet access are underway or completed in 443 communities, include 75 Indigenous communities. The province has $16 million available to assist local govenrments, service providers, and community organizations to connect people with high-speed Internet, an has committed another $50 million to ensure that work to connect people in every region continues beyond the current funding opportunity.

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