Improved connectivity due to updates to the Local Government Act will provide more options for people living in rural and remote areas to connect with friends and family, purchase goods or services, access health services, expand their business or even telecommute.
These changes give regional districts an additional tool to help expand high-speed internet to under-served areas.
“Regional districts have been asking for this. It’s one more way we are delivering results that empower communities, bringing more people online to be involved in, and benefit from, today’s digital economy,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “The changes build on the significant investments our government has already made to connect people and communities by increasing their access to high-speed internet service.”
Changes enable regional districts to provide financing for capital costs to internet service providers where it may not otherwise make sense from a business perspective. This will help advance construction of new connectivity infrastructure for rural and remote communities.
Although the act generally prohibits a regional district from aiding a business, it also contains specific exceptions to this rule for services that are often considered essential, such as telephone, natural gas or electricity. Changes to the Local Government Act reflect that high-speed internet has become a basic service.
“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. “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.”
The Province has defined high-speed internet service to align with standards established by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. To qualify as a high-speed internet service, the new standards require minimum speeds of 50 megabits per second when downloading information and 10 megabits per second when uploading information.
“We are pleased and supportive of the changes made to the Local Government Act to continue to improve services and connectivity for all rural areas across the province,” said Ian Thorpe, chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo. “We were very appreciative of the federal Gas Tax Funds received in 2017 that helped bring high-speed internet to a rural area within our region.”
Updates to the Local Government Act respond to needs identified by local governments through resolutions endorsed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
- Bill 3 amended the Local Government Act to give regional districts the ability to provide capital financing to businesses for the purpose of expanding high-speed internet to underserved areas: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/bills/billscurrent/4th41st:gov03-1/search/CIVIX_DOCUMENT_ROOT_STEM:(Bill%203)%20AND%20CIVIX_DOCUMENT_ANCESTORS:billscurrent?14#hit1
- The Ministry of Citizens’ Services provides resources and expertise to help communities design new digital infrastructure to maximize the benefits of improved connectivity, and include:
- Projects to improve high-speed internet access are underway or completed in 443 communities, including 75 Indigenous communities.
- $16 million is available to help local governments, service providers and community organizations connect people in rural and Indigenous communities with high-speed internet.
- $50 million has been committed to ensure the work to connect people in every region of B.C. continues beyond the current funding opportunity.
Connectivity resources for communities: https://www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca/connecting-british-columbia-resources/
Province makes historic investment in rural internet service: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019CITZ0006-000348
Connecting British Columbia program: https://www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca/funding-programs/partner-programs/connecting-british-columbia/
Northern Development Initiative Trust administers the Connecting British Columbia program: https://www.northerndevelopment.bc.ca/