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- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

“Expanding broadband services is essential to the economic health and quality of life for rural communities. “

This may be the only line of two media releases we received today on which both senders- MPP Bill Walker and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner - might agree.

Walker's headline read “MPP Walker thrilled with investment in rural Internet infrastructure”.
Schreiner's was “Premier cuts rural broadband by $100 million per year.”

If you wonder why we in the media have difficulty providing you with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” on a given issue, this is your answer.

There is, of course, a political motivation to each of these statements, whether the party is the government or in opposition.  We try to minimize that with some judicious editing.

The other challenge, with four or five of these news releases coming across my desk most days this summer, is keeping up with the fact-checking in a timely way.

Last week we published a release which appeared to announce new money for expanding local midwifery services, but turned out to be nothing more than fulfilling the commitments of a contract signed three years ago.

The government appears to believe that no money committed for 2018 or beyond by the previous Liberal government was real because the Liberals were not re-elected. If a sector or institution was expecting and developing plans for $1M in their budget this year based on a Liberal commitment,  the PC's $800,000 is not a twenty percent cut, they argue,  but a new investment for 2019. I believe that is the issue with the government's Internet announcement and Schreiner's response.

The first line of the announcement gives no timelines but links to the government's action plan -
“Families and businesses across Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound can look forward to faster internet and better cellphone service as the province releases its first-ever $315-million plan to improve and expand broadband and cellular infrastructure across rural communities.”

That document “Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan” mentions two dollar figures - “Ontario will launch a $150 million provincial broadband and cellular infrastructure program beginning in 2020-21” and “the Province is investing $315 million over five years to focus on expanded access for unserved and underserved communities”.

In the media release - “Ontario’s plan is expected to generate up to $1 billion in total investment over five years, resulting in new connections for up to 220,000 homes and businesses.”
Although many of the commitments have not been made, the wording in the plan is more emphatic “These investments will leverage funding from the private sector and other levels of government to directly generate up to $1 billion in total investment over five years”.

According to the release, in our own part of the province the federal/municipal/regional/county governments and others will need to come up with more than $126 million for the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project in Southwestern Ontario, the Niagara Region and the Town of Caledon, with the province committing up to $63.7 million in funding toward SWIFT’s total project costs of more than $190 million.

Here is Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner's response to the government's announcement today:

"But this announcement represents a $100 million per year cut compared to what the previous government had pledged in 2018, meaning rural communities will continue to be underserved.

This insufficient commitment to rural broadband does not square with the Premier’s Open for Business agenda. 
Over and over again people in rural areas tell me how poor internet connectivity is a drain on their businesses and their connections with friends, family and the outside world. 

We should treat reliable rural broadband as a necessity, not a bonus, in rural Ontario. 

If you’re a farmer or a freelancer, it’s a requirement for doing business. 
And if you’re a young family who wants to use the Internet like everyone else – from social media to online banking to education – then it’s the difference between staying on the farm or moving to the city. 
Keeping family farms prosperous and rural communities thriving requires an increased investment in rather than a cut to Internet service."

sources: media releases, MPP Bill Walker, MPP Mike Schreiner


 

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