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Connect to Innovate – Frequently asked questions

From: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada


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 high-speed Internet service 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 or railway spurs 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.

Who could apply?

The Connect to Innovate program was flexible in terms of who could apply—essentially any entity other than individuals was able to submit an application. Other federal entities (including Crown corporations) were excluded from applying to this program.

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 resources.

Why is the Government of Canada providing funding to bring high-speed Internet for Canadians in rural and remote communities?

Canadians need access to high-speed Internet to fully participate in our economy, democracy and way of life.

In many rural and remote communities, challenging geography and smaller populations present barriers to private sector investment in building and maintaining high-speed Internet infrastructure. In order to ensure Canadians in rural and remote communities have adequate access to high-speed Internet service, Connect to Innovate is supporting primarily new backbone infrastructure. In addition, eligibility will include backbone capacity upgrades and resiliency, as well as last-mile infrastructure projects to households and businesses where there are persistent connectivity gaps and a demonstrated need.

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.
Consult the list of Announced Connect to Innovate projects for information on projects that have been announced to date.

Who was consulted prior to developing this program?

Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada conducted extensive consultations throughout the spring and summer 2016 on the new program. Representatives from all of the provinces and territories—often multiple ministries—municipalities, private sector service providers, not-for-profit and industry organizations, and other federal departments and agencies were consulted.

During consultations, there was a consensus among the majority of provinces, territories, municipalities, and Internet service providers that this program should support backbone infrastructure, since many identified a lack of this type of infrastructure as a key barrier to Internet enhancement and expansion in rural and remote areas.

A smaller but important number of stakeholders identified that additional needs warrant eligibility, including backbone upgrades and resiliency as well as last-mile infrastructure to households and businesses.

Will this be 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. Consequently, approved projects must be completed by March 31, 2023. Costs incurred after that date will not be eligible for funding under the program.

Why is the Connect to Innovate program's target for last-mile projects only 5 Megabits per second?

There are still some Canadian households that do not have access to 5 Megabits per second (Mbps), and this was a consideration when the program launched in 2016. To ensure that these households had an opportunity to benefit from the Connect to Innovate program, given their particularly challenging circumstances, 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, among other criteria.

How did the Connect to Innovate program achieve value for money?

The Connect to Innovate program supports better Internet connectivity in some of the most underserved communities in some of the most challenging rural and remote areas of Canada. It will provide significant value for money in its targets, communities served, funds leveraged and kilometers covered.

The program will connect 975 communities across Canada, three times the program's original target. Of the 975 communities, 190 are Indigenous communities.

By partnering with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous groups and the private sector, the Connect to Innovate program is more than doubling the Government of Canada's investment.

In total, Connect to Innovate projects will leverage over $1 billion in improved connectivity.

The Connect to Innovate program investment will build over 22,500 kilometers of fibre — including in some of the most rugged and challenging terrain in Canada.

About the application process and funding

What is the deadline for applications?

The Connect to Innovate program was launched by the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development on December 15, 2016.

The intake for application submissions is now closed and no further intake is expected.

In spring of 2019 the Connect to Innovate program received additional funding. How will this be used?

The Connect to Innovate program top-up funding announced in Budget 2019 is being used to fund applications from an existing and already assessed pool of high-quality, but not initially selected, Connect to Innovate program applications. Projects selected for the program's top-up funding have been announced.

Was project selection carried out the same way in each province and territory?

The Connect to Innovate program launch coincided with a call for project applications to 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.

As such, 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 will ensure a national allocation of funds.

What types of projects were eligible under the Connect to Innovate program?

The program supports projects that are expected to be substantially completed by March 31, 2023. There are five different eligible backbone and last-mile project types, but a variety of possible combinations, including a hybrid of both backbone and last-mile infrastructure projects.

However, 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.
When was the decision for federal funding of project proposals made?

The announcement of successful funding recipients began in late summer 2017.

How did project selection work?

The Connect to Innovate program launch coincided with a call for project applications to a national, competitive process.

Applications were screened against eligibility criteria, and then assessed on their essential criteria in the categories of technology and 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 and partners and costs. This comparative assessment informs the selection of projects by the Minister.

Taken together, the Minister must ensure projects provide a good regional distribution, allow the program to reach a sufficient number of communities, and do not exceed available resources.

Who benefited from Connect to Innovate program funding?

Connect to Innovate funding has been allocated to a range of recipients including large incumbents, Indigenous groups, municipally-based organizations, and smaller Internet service providers. In fact, under the program, approximately 1/3 of funding has been committed to large Internet service providers, 1/3 to small Internet service providers and municipalities, and 1/3 to Indigenous projects.

How did Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada support small businesses in accessing Connect to Innovate program funding?

Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada reached out to many stakeholders during consultations as part of the design phase of the program, including small internet service providers. A departmental priority is to provide broadband choice in the market. This includes ensuring small players are active and have 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 projects are selected, they 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 high-speed Internet service 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 are the funding contributions and limits?

The Connect to Innovate program recognizes the significant upfront costs associated with building, operating and maintaining backbone and last-mile infrastructure and networks in underserved rural and remote communities. The program provides contributions toward the total eligible costs of projects, to a set maximum percentage; there are no pre-set award values under the program.

The program operates on a cost-sharing basis. Typically, the maximum amount of funding that an applicant could request for new backbone and new last-mile was up to 75% of the total eligible costs. For satellite-dependent and remote communities, the program contribution limit for new backbone projects could be up to 90 percent of eligible backbone costs.

The program provides up to 50 percent of eligible costs for all projects that propose backbone resiliency or capacity upgrades and partially served last-mile.

Total government assistance for all projects, including federal, provincial/territorial and municipal, does not exceed 100 percent of eligible costs.

What qualifies as an anchor institution?

The Connect to Innovate program broadly defines an anchor institution as facilities that serve a public function.

In practice, this could be 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.

Will there be multiple intakes for the program?

Application intake is currently closed and further intakes for this program are not anticipated.

How are 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.

If an applicant partners with another entity, such as an Internet service provider, to deliver the Internet services proposed in an application, what kind of partnership does the program consider valid?

If an eligible applicant is awarded funding under the Connect to Innovate program, the applicant will enter into a contribution agreement with the Crown. Under that agreement the successful applicant (now the recipient) is obligated to fulfil certain obligations, namely the completion of the project as set out in the statement of work, meet certain reporting requirements, be subject to maintain proper record keeping, etc.

In terms of what the recipient should expect from their partners, it would be whatever is necessary for the recipient to fulfill their commitments to the Crown.

For example, if the recipient enters into a contract with an Internet Service Provider to build, operate, and maintain the network, that ISP must provide all the necessary documentation to the recipient to ensure it is able to fulfill its commitment to the Crown to provide substantiating costing documents to submit claims for reimbursements.

For a new organization, there are many costs involved with launching Internet service. Are any of these costs eligible?

The Connect to Innovate program covers capital expenditure costs to design and to build or upgrade an existing network. Costs to establish an internet service provider (e.g., buildings, office supplies, vehicles, etc.), training for staff, business operations (e.g., tools) and to maintain the network are not covered by the program.

I recently received a rejection letter. What does this mean?

The Connect to Innovate program has selected its recipients from among a pool of successful applications. At this time, all of the Connect to Innovate program funding has been allocated and no further projects will be selected under this program.

Visit the Get Connected portal to learn more about other available sources of funding, including the Universal Broadband Fund, to be launched in the coming months.

Information for consumers and communities

Can I get improved Internet service at home through the Connect to Innovate program?

Many Internet infrastructure projects to be funded under the Connect to Innovate program will result in improved residential, business, and institutional high-speed Internet service.

If a project is announced in your area and you would like more information, you are advised to contact the project recipient or Internet service provider who can provide further details about the project as it relates to your specific area, household or community.

If you do not have access to high-speed Internet or are unsatisfied with your current Internet service, you may wish to contact the Internet service providers that offer services in your area to determine if or when high-speed Internet will be available to you.

I do not have access to high-speed Internet but my area is not on your eligibility map. Can I still get access to high-speed Internet service through the Connect to Innovate program?

Even if Internet service providers are providing high-speed Internet service in your area, they may not provide coverage to 100 percent of households in that area. If you do not have access to high-speed Internet, you may wish to contact the Internet service providers (ISP) that offer services in your area to determine if or when high-speed Internet will be available to you. To see which ISPs currently provide service in your area, enter your address in our National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map.

How can I make a complaint about my Internet service provider (ISP) or Internet service?

If you are interested in improvements to your Internet service, we suggest raising these issues with your Internet service provider first to see if they can be resolved. ISPs are ultimately responsible for the equipment they offer, their billing and marketing practices, their quality of service and customer relations.

Switch Internet service providers:

You are free to switch Internet service providers.

Make a complaint:

You may 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).

Consumer Support

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