Nova Scotia High-Speed Rural Internet Initiative

Access to quality internet service is essential for living, working and competing in a digital world. It’s an important part of delivering many of the services that matter most to Nova Scotians – health care, education and services for our most vulnerable citizens. It’s also a key driver of economic growth because it gives Nova Scotia businesses the opportunity to compete and succeed anywhere in the world.

Government recognizes that improving high-speed internet service in rural areas will take time and ongoing investments, and committed funding in Budget 2016 to begin the process.  

Stakeholder Engagement

Many players need to work together to coordinate and align efforts to improve rural high-speed internet service. Nova Scotia’s initiative began with discussions with a variety of stakeholders who continue to be engaged throughout the process, including:  

  • Municipalities and community groups
  • Provincial government partners
  • Federal government partners
  • Internet service providers (ISPs)
  • Interested citizens and community groups (via meetings, correspondence etc.)

High-Speed Internet Review

In spring 2015, Ernst & Young (EY) was contracted to review the state of rural internet service in Nova Scotia. The Review of Alternatives for Rural High Speed Internet report (PDF 1.10MB) was delivered in June 2016.

The report examined Nova Scotia’s internet service landscape, the current technologies available, internet services around the world, and possible roles for government in improving service. It highlighted that this is an issue affecting many regions throughout Canada and globally. The report concluded that Nova Scotia’s success will require a mix of technologies and key partners. Wired technologies (e.g., fibre, cable) offer better reliability while fixed wireless and satellite are also very viable options. Based on the experience of other jurisdictions that successfully improved internet service, EY recommended that Nova Scotia build a long-term plan to enhance their “middle-mile” or “backbone” infrastructure, as well as to strengthen “last-mile” infrastructure.

Government then began a process to develop a long-term strategy for the middle mile, while also launching a number of programs that could improve more last-mile connections to homes and businesses in the shorter term.

Long-Term Strategy Development

In October 2016, Brightstar Canada was hired to develop the long-term strategy for the middle mile. The Brightstar project team includes the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), which completed a similar project in Eastern Ontario, and Nova Scotia-based Musial’s Computer Consulting (MCCI). The team has expertise in project management, network engineering, stakeholder engagement, finance/business modelling, and governance.

The Brightstar team is mapping existing infrastructure, identifying internet bandwidth demand and gaps, developing costing models and identifying potential funding partners, and providing governance models to sustainably improve and manage rural internet service in Nova Scotia. The final strategy will be delivered to government this spring.

While the long-term strategy is in development, two other programs were initiated to improve last-mile connections in the shorter term: the Municipal and Community Group Rural High-Speed Internet Funding Program and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) Program.

Municipal and Community Program

The Municipal and Community Group Rural High-Speed Internet Funding Program launched in November 2016. This program will help groups partner with ISPs to make immediate improvements to last-mile service in communities across Nova Scotia. It provides up to $75,000 per project.

A summary of the 22 municipal and community high-speed internet projects can be downloaded here.

Internet Service Provider (ISP) Program

In July 2016, a Request for Information (RFI) was issued to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) seeking solutions to improve last-mile connections in the short term. There were 11 responses to this RFI. This information helped government better understand the range and scope of solutions that could be implemented in the shorter term and what those solutions might cost.

The next step in this process was planned to be an application-based funding program for ISPs. However, government is now considering new developments at the federal level.

Federal Initiatives

Connect to Innovate Program

In December 2016, Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada launched a five-year, $500 million Connect to Innovate program to help rural and remote communities access better internet. This new program was initially intended to focus only on backbone or middle-mile infrastructure. However, based on consultation with stakeholders, improvements to existing middle-mile infrastructure as well as last-mile infrastructure projects to households and businesses are also now eligible.   

It’s important that Nova Scotia’s ISP program aligns with this new federal program to maximize the total funding available to Nova Scotia. Government is currently in discussions with ISPs to determine how to best align with the federal program.

The deadline to apply to Connect to Innovate is April 20, 2017.  

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – Targets and Fund

In December 2016, the CRTC announced minimum targets for basic internet service and announced a new five-year, $750 million fund. Government will continue to work with federal partners to align with federal programs and incorporate new information into Nova Scotia’s long-term strategy, as appropriate.

Read more information on CRTC website.

Key Terms

Middle Mile (sometimes called “backbone”):
Technologies that bring the Internet to a point in a community. Middle-mile technology is often fibre optic-based, but can include a range of technologies including microwave, wireless and satellite.

Last Mile:
Technologies that distribute Internet from the Point of Presence to individual homes and businesses in the community. Last-mile technology is either wired (cable, fibre, or copper pair), fixed wireless, or satellite.

Point of Presence:
Point in a community from which Internet can be distributed to individual homes and businesses in the community

ISPs/Internet Service Providers:
Companies that provide individual homes and businesses with access to internet service