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Chamber of Commerce hails rural internet cash injection

Annapolis County is finishing contract negotiations and getting closer to the day when it can start building a countywide fibre optic Internet backbone that will be able to bring high speeds to almost every business and residence in the county.

The Pictou County Chamber of Commerce hailed the government’s investment of $120 million for rural internet service announced in Halifax Thursday.

The one-time cash injection for rural internet is part of an offshore natural gas royalty windfall that the government will also spend on scientific research, combating the opioid crisis and other initiatives. The province says that total investments will be $244 million.

“I think it’s a real step forward. Its time has come,” said Jack Kyte, the chamber’s executive director.

The province’s announcement comes less than a month after the Municipality of Pictou County announced a new partnership with Nova Scotian non-profit i-Valley to install high-speed Internet.

A lack of high-speed rural internet can halt everything from streaming shows to working from home and can even prevent people from selling their home.

According to Kyle, high-speed internet and energy efficiency are important features to consider when buying or selling homes.

“It’s one of the things we’ve been hearing year on year in terms of things that need to be improved,” said Kyte.

He was pleased that Stephen McNeil’s Liberals had decided to use their offshore windfall to improve online infrastructure.

Kyte’s sentiments were echoed by i-Valley co-founder Barry Gander, who said in an email Friday that “we are very supportive.”

The details will be very important. If it is aimed at municipalities, the fund has the potential to be a game-changer for proper rural internet coverage in Nova Scotia,” said Gander.

Municipalities elsewhere in Canada have already proven effective elsewhere in delivering high-speed internet to rural communities.

Ontario’s SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology network received $180 million in both federal and provincial funds. It plans to start rolling out high-speed broadband to 3.5 million people in 350 communities across southern Ontario this year.

A similar investment in Nova Scotia cannot be funded by municipalities alone, according to Robert Parker, who serves as Pictou County’s warden.

He described the provincial investment as “great news,” for those rural residents who struggle with poor internet or often no service at all. Many areas do not even have cellphone coverage.

However, high-speed broadband could prove a game-changer for the local economy.

Speaking last month, i-Valley says that Pictou County businesses and start-ups could become competitive globally if they have a reliable broadband service.

The organization estimates that the current lack of internet infrastructure accounts for 25 to 50 per cent of all rural job losses.

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