Federal government spending $55 million on Xplornet and Rogers rural fiber plans in NB

The federal government is spending $55 million for two companies to install high-speed fiber optic internet access to connect about 11,000 homes.

Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc. will receive part of the funding, while Woodstock-based Xplornet Communications Inc. will receive another part. No breakdown was provided on how much each company should receive.

Gudie Hutchings, the federal Minister of Rural Economic Development, made the announcement Friday morning at a press conference in Miramichi that lacked details.

The minister said the communities where the money would be used cover a “huge” list. CBC has requested the list, but it has not yet been provided.

“It’s not a big project for each of the developers, there are a variety of projects to connect these homes that we’re connecting today, and each one is a little different,” Hutchings said.

Part of Federal Connection Goal

Funding through the $2.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund is part of a commitment to have 98% of Canadian homes connected at speeds of 50 megabits per second download and 10 upload by 2026.

The federal government has set a second target of 100% by 2030.

Hutchings said the Liberal government has spent $43 million to connect 66,000 New Brunswick homes since 2015.

The actual cost to serve 10,802 New Brunswick households is unclear. Rogers and Xplornet will spend more on top of government funding, but no numbers were disclosed.

“We are thrilled to be working with Minister Hutchings to bring fiber to the home and gigabit-speed Internet service to rural New Brunswickers,” said Jeff Burlock, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of Xplornet.

Matthew MacLellan, President of Atlantic Region for Rogers, left, and Jeff Burlock, co-founder of Xplornet, watch the press conference in Miramichi. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Burlock said the company, owned by New York-based private equity firm Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners since 2020, is already working with the federal government to connect more than 63,000 homes across the province to high-speed internet.

Matthew MacLellan, president of the Atlantic region for Rogers, also said they will use the funding to install fiber in various locations which will be 2.5 gigabits up and 2.5 GB down.

Hutchings said even with the spending announced so far, there will still be about 24,000 New Brunswick households without high-speed Internet service.

The minister said “discussions” about future funding are underway with Rogers and Xplornet to serve these households.

“My goal is to connect all of Canada and by working with Rogers and Xplornet we will connect all of New Brunswick,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings said the companies were selected after an application process that considered things like the equipment that would be used, whether the network infrastructure can be upgraded in the future to provide higher speeds, a affordable price and connection areas that do not yet have service.

No provincial funding was part of the announcement.

Shortly after the announcement, a spokesperson for Bell Aliant forwarded a press release to CBC that the company issued on Tuesday indicating that it would expand its Internet service to more than 25 New Brunswick communities through a program “fully funded by Bell”.

A company spokesperson said the areas are already served by slower internet.

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