The federal and provincial governments announced today they will invest $180 million in a broadband network for southwestern Ontario, a digital initiative involving the University of Guelph.
The funding will support the Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) network, which aims to provide open-access, high-speed fibre optic network capacity to more than 3.5 million people in 300 rural communities, from the Town of Caledon to the Niagara Region to Grey County.
Through Prof. Helen Hambly and the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), U of G has provided community engagement, evaluation and research support for the project since 2011.
“It became apparent that the future of Ontario’s rural and remote areas was going to be highly influenced by digital development opportunities or the lack thereof,” said Hambly, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development.
“Our work at U of G in areas such as precision agriculture and knowledge mobilization for agri-food innovation are entirely linked to the underlying broadband infrastructure that makes the uptake of new digital technologies possible.”
Hambly, a rural extension expert, heads the Regional and Rural Broadband (R2B2) research unit. As a member of the SWIFT advisory committee, she works with public-sector organizations, businesses, farmers and residents on providing ultra-high-speed broadband and network infrastructure.
Through R2B2, she works with researchers and universities across Canada on baseline modelling, quantitative data collection and analysis, GIS mapping and outcome assessment.
“Communities across Canada are seeking ways to measure and monitor their progress in digital development,” Hambly said.
Canada was once a leader in Internet capacity, but about one in five Canadians — most of them in rural areas — still lack basic Internet access, said Hambly.
Improved rural infrastructure will yield new economic opportunities and efficiencies, and have educational and social benefits, she said.
“The development of connectivity is tremendously important to enabling province-wide innovation that benefits both rural and urban areas.”
The governments of Canada and Ontario will each contribute up to $90 million through the New Building Canada Fund’s Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component-Small Communities Fund.
In making the announcement today in London, Bob Chiarelli, minister of infrastructure, said bringing critical broadband infrastructure to southwestern Ontario will strengthen the province’s economy.
“High-speed Internet will connect people and businesses to the resources they need to compete in the global marketplace and strengthen our economy. Equipping people in the province with the tools they need to succeed is one of the ways we’re helping to build Ontario up.”
The total estimated project cost is $281 million; the remaining funds will come from municipal and private contributions through the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which initially proposed the SWIFT initiative.
Prof. Helen Hambly
School of Environmental Design & Rural Development
519-824-4120, Ext. 53408