Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has been trying to build up his party’s profile in rural Canada with policy pronouncements on firearms and food policy.
He didn’t get much reaction until he announced May 4 that a Liberal government would ensure high-speed Internet service right across Canada.
Industry Minister Tony Clement quickly defended the Harper government’s plan to expand broadband service to rural and remote areas. The government’s Economic Action Plan has allocated $225 million in Internet service funding with the majority of the funds intended for unserved and underserved areas.
“Extending broadband coverage is a sound economic investment because it provides households and businesses with Internet service levels more comparable to those of many of their urban counterparts,” he said.
Ignatieff says the Liberals would ensure high-speed broadband Internet access across Canada within three years. He said all communities would have service at 1.5 megabits a second by 2013 as well as expanded cellphone coverage and a more ambitious Internet speed by 2017. The Liberals would fund the initiative with money raised from the upcoming public auction of wireless airwaves, scheduled for next year.
“In today’s economy, no technology does more to encourage job creation, ent repreneur ship and opportunity than broadband Internet,” he said. “A minimum level of high-speed connectivity is also necessary to ensure access to basic online services. But for rural Canada, broadband Internet is more than just the lifeblood of economic possibility. It’s the key to convincing young people to build their lives and careers in the communities they grew up in. It’s the key to giving many rural communities a chance to grow again.”
In 2009, more than 800,000 Canadian households still did not have access to high-speed Internet, he said. And since announcing their $225-million rural Internet fund in February 2009, some 15 months later the Conservative government has not signed one agreement to improve rural Internet connectivity. At the turn of the century Canada ranked second in the world in Internet connectivity, but has now fallen to 10th. This is unacceptable.”