Connect to Innovate funds projects that bring improved Internet speeds to rural and remote communities in Canada. The program has committed $585 million to improve connectivity in over 975 rural and remote communities, including 190 Indigenous communities, by 2023.
This program primarily supports new "backbone" infrastructure to connect institutions like schools and hospitals. A portion of the funding will also provide upgrades and "last-mile" infrastructure to households and businesses.
Why is it important?
Internet access is more than just a convenience; it is essential for citizens, businesses, and institutions to access information, offer services, and create opportunities that could otherwise be out of reach. Canadians need access to high-speed Internet to fully participate in our economy, democracy and way of life.
Challenging geography and smaller populations present barriers to private sector investment in building, operating and maintaining infrastructure in rural and remote communities. Given this, Budget 2016 announced $500 million for the Connect to Innovate program and Budget 2019 added $85 million to top-up the existing program as part of a set of investments under Canada's Connectivity Strategy.
Connect to Innovate funding is primarily directed to new "backbone" infrastructure in rural and remote communities across Canada. Building backbone infrastructure is the modern equivalent of building roads into rural and remote areas, connecting them to the global economy. This backbone infrastructure is often fibre optic-based, but can be made up of a range of technologies including microwave and satellite service.
Capacity upgrades are needed in some communities that already have access to fibre , but the network is old and has become congested. Resiliency projects were also eligible and include the construction of fibre loop extensions to help avoid losing connection during accidental fibre cuts in rural and remote areas.
A portion of Connect to Innovate program funds also support "last-mile" connectivity projects to households . Last-mile infrastructure brings Internet access from the backbone directly to households or small businesses through familiar wired or wireless technologies, such as cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), fixed wireless or satellite. Without adequate last-mile infrastructure, Canadian consumers and businesses cannot use the backbone infrastructure that may already exist in a community.
Frequently asked questions
- About the Connect to Innovate Program
- About the application process and funding
- Information for consumers and communities
About the Connect to Innovate Program
What is the Connect to Innovate program?
The Connect to Innovate program is investing $585 million by 2023, to bring improved connectivity to rural and remote communities in Canada.
Program funds are primarily directed to new backbone infrastructure to build connections to institutions like schools, hospitals and First Nations band offices. Backbone infrastructure is often fibre optic-based, but can be comprised of a range of technologies including microwave, wireless and satellite service. Building this infrastructure is the modern equivalent of building roads into rural and remote areas, connecting them to the global economy.
Although the focus of the program is on new backbone infrastructure, during extensive consultations stakeholders identified additional needs that warrant eligibility. As such, eligibility included backbone capacity upgrades and resiliency, as well as last-mile infrastructure projects to households and businesses.
Which regions in Canada will get improved Internet service through the Connect to Innovate program?
The National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map shows the locations of Connect to Innovate projects.
See the list of Selected Connect to Innovate projects for information on projects that have been announced to date.
Who was consulted before developing the program?
Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada conducted broad consultations throughout the spring and summer 2016 on the new program. Representatives from all of the provinces and territories, municipalities, private sector service providers, not-for-profit and industry organizations, and other federal departments and agencies were consulted.
During consultations, there was agreement among most provinces, territories, municipalities, and Internet service providers that this program should support backbone infrastructure. Many identified a lack of backbone infrastructure as a key barrier to Internet enhancement and expansion in rural and remote areas.
A number of stakeholders also identified other needs including backbone upgrades and resiliency as well as last-mile infrastructure to households and businesses. As a result, projects that address these needs were also eligible.
Is this a permanent program?
No. Connect to Innovate was initially a five-year program scheduled to end March 31, 2021. The program has since been extended to March 31, 2023 as a result of new funding from Budget 2019. Approved projects must be completed by March 31, 2023.
Why is the Connect to Innovate program's target for last-mile projects 5 Megabits per second?
There are still some Canadian households that do not have access to 5 Megabits per second (Mbps). To ensure that these households had an opportunity to benefit from the Connect to Innovate program these households were eligible for last-mile funding under the program. However, this speed is a minimum threshold, and last-mile applications were assessed against other applications on their proposed download speed to households.
About the application process and funding
Who could apply to the program?
Applications to the Connect to Innovate program are closed.
The program was flexible in terms of who could apply—essentially any entity other than individuals or other federal entities (including Crown corporations) were able to submit an application
The applicant had to identify who would build, own and operate the network, as well as who would manage the project. If the entity making an application to the program did not itself have a track record in operating Internet infrastructure, it would be asked to demonstrate in its application that appropriate resources with experience deploying and operating Internet infrastructure were part of the project team/contracted services.
In spring of 2019 the Connect to Innovate program received additional funding. How was this used?
The Connect to Innovate program top-up funding announced in Budget 2019 was used to fund applications from an existing and already assessed pool of high-quality, but not initially selected, Connect to Innovate program applications.
Was funding distributed evenly across provinces and territories?
The Connect to Innovate program launched with a call for project applications through a national, competitive process. As the Eligibility Map illustrates, there are communities and areas in need of high-speed Internet infrastructure in every province and territory.
There were no pre-determined regional allocations. The Connect to Innovate program received project proposals from every province and territory to expand and enhance high-speed Internet service for Canadians and ensured a national allocation of funds.
What types of projects were eligible under the Connect to Innovate program?
The program supported projects that were expected to be substantially completed by March 31, 2023. Five different backbone and last-mile project types were eligible, and a variety of possible combinations, including a hybrid of both backbone and last-mile infrastructure projects.At least one of the following categories described below of backbone and last-mile infrastructure projects were required:
- New backbone: Program funding is primarily directed to communities identified by Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada as lacking a backbone connection of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps).
- Backbone upgrade: Communities which have at least a 1 Gbps backbone connection were considered eligible for upgrades if the applicant could clearly demonstrate a capacity constraint.
- Network resiliency: Network resiliency projects were projects where a new fibre backbone route is deployed to provide an alternate data path, increasing network reliability and resiliency for all users.
- New last-mile: Projects proposing to connect households or businesses that lack service at speeds of 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload were eligible in completely underserved areas.
- Partially served last-mile: Areas were considered partially or completely served at speeds of 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Projects proposing to connect households or businesses that remained underserved in these areas were eligible if the applicant could clearly demonstrate these households or businesses did not have access to speeds of 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.
How were projects selected?
The Connect to Innovate program launched with a call for project applications through a national, competitive process.
Applications were screened against eligibility criteria, and then assessed on their essential criteria in the categories of technology, planning and management. Those that passed these two initial stages of screening and assessment would be 'screened in' to the program.
Applications were then assessed against a series of comparative criteria in the categories of community benefits, partners and costs. This comparative assessment informs the selection of projects by the Minister.
Taken together, the Minister ensured projects provided a good regional distribution, allowed the program to reach a sufficient number of communities, and did not exceed available resources.
How did Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada support small businesses in accessing Connect to Innovate program funding?
We reached out to many stakeholders while designing the program, including small Internet service providers. One of our priorities was to provide broadband choice in the market. This included ensuring small players had the opportunity to upgrade and expand their networks.
During the call for applications, Connect to Innovate program staff responded to questions from small Internet service providers and provided guidance on program requirements. Connect to Innovate program received almost 900 applications, most of them from smaller companies.
Why do some projects take so long to complete?
Once selected, projects are considered to be conditionally approved, pending a due diligence process and the negotiation of contribution agreements between the Minister and eligible recipients.
Most broadband projects are multi-year infrastructure projects that require time to be designed, developed, and constructed. Initial project stages include engineering design work, environmental studies, equipment purchasing, and permitting. Large-scale builds often do not proceed within the first year of a project.
Projects that are underway may experience delays due to weather, equipment procurement, obtaining permits, or for smaller applicants, difficulties with contracting (e.g., engineering expertise or equipment installation).
What are the anticipated benefits of this program?
The Connect to Innovate program drives transformative change by bringing improved Internet speeds into rural and remote communities, allowing public institutions such as medical facilities, schools and First Nation band offices to deliver cutting-edge services while providing access to digital tools for residents and businesses.
While in practice the benefits will vary from project to project, the example below provides an idea of the types of services a 1 Gbps capacity backbone infrastructure could provide to a rural or remote community of 500 residents:
- Connections to 200 households or businesses at 12 Mbps;
- Dedicated capacity to a medium-size business or important regional employer;
- Dedicated capacity for the delivery of cutting edge remote services at two (2) public institutions; and
- A modern 4G mobile network within the community.
Residents, business owners and professionals can benefit from access to a full suite of modern digital tools and services, encouraging entrepreneurship and propelling business competitiveness through e-commerce, cloud computing and marketing; improving employment and career prospects through education and training; and improving health and education outcomes through tele-medicine and tele-learning, all while reducing or even eliminating the need for long distance travel to urban areas.
What qualified as an anchor institution?
The Connect to Innovate program broadly defines an anchor institution as facilities that serve a public function; for example, a school, a medical facility, a library, a First Nations band office, a community centre, a post office or other anchors around which a community is formed.
Connecting an anchor institution is an essential criterion of the program; therefore, backbone infrastructure projects must connect at least one anchor institution. During the assessment phase, the number and type of anchor institutions were also taken into consideration as a comparative criterion; the more anchors that were connected to a proposed project, the more favourably the project application were viewed.
How were eligible communities defined?
For the purposes of the program, eligible communities were defined as the following:
An eligible rural community is defined as a named place with a population of less than 30,000 residents and that is 2 km or more from the nearest 1 Gbps Point of presence on a backbone network.
An eligible remote community is a community that meets the definition of a rural community and does not have year-round road access and/or is included on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's list of communities dependent on satellite for telecommunications services (Table 11.4).
How does this program ensure the Internet service it is supporting is affordable for Canadians?
Potential applicants applying for support to deploy a last-mile network for households and businesses had to provide the monthly service price, any one-time fees related to service, and any overage charges related to exceeding a monthly data cap of 45 GB.
Under the competitive call for applications, this pricing information was used to assess the strength of one application compared to other application, which encouraged an applicant to provide the best market price it could for residential and business internet users.
Information for consumers and communities
Can I get improved Internet service at home through the Connect to Innovate program?
Many Internet infrastructure projects funded under the Connect to Innovate program will improve residential, business, and institutional Internet service.
If a project was announced in your area and you would like more information, you can contact the project recipient or Internet service provider for more details about the project.
If you do not have access to high-speed Internet or are unsatisfied with your current Internet service, we suggest that you contact the Internet service providers in your area to find out if or when improved Internet speeds will be available to you.
How can I make a complaint about my Internet service provider (ISP) or Internet service?
If there is an issue with your Internet service, we suggest you speak with your Internet service provider to see if it can be resolved. ISPs are responsible for the equipment they offer, their billing and marketing practices, their quality of service and customer relations.
If speaking with your Internet Service Provider does not resolve your issue, you may wish to check the National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map for other Internet Service Providers in your area. You may also wish to bring your concerns to the attention of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), an independent organization that has been established to provide consumers and small businesses with recourse when they are unable to resolve disagreements with their telecommunications service providers. For more information concerning the CCTS, including how to file a complaint, please visit the CCTS website at www.ccts-cprst.ca/en/complaints/guide.
The CCTS can also be reached toll-free at 1-888-221-1687, or by mail at P.O. Box 81088, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1B1.
If your issue falls outside of the mandate of the CCTS, you may wish to contact the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Do you have questions? Contact us.