I have just a few words, then, on the three specific areas of comment in the Auditor General's chapter: first, on strategy; second, on programs; and third, on spectrum.
On strategy, we agree on the need for a connectivity strategy, particularly in light of the CRTC decision in December 2016 declaring broadband a basic service and setting that 50/10 target. I personally believe that this declaration has created a significant inflection point for the delivery of broadband, which has required us to move from an evolutionary, step-by-step approach, addressing gaps, to a more collaborative, integrative approach to broadband.
As a basic service, the department's broadband programs predate this announcement from CRTC. As I said, they were designed to be step by step and to focus on specific gaps in services, coverages and speed. We focused on closing the gaps in speed between urban and rural areas in a way that carefully balances the public interest and private investment. We do want to avoid crowding out private investment in whatever we do.
I would also want to stress to members and to the chair that connectivity is very much a moving target. Technology is constantly changing and improving, and in this context, strategy is important, particularly as we set specific goals. However, it's constantly evolving. Only a few years ago our target was five and one, as opposed to 50 and 10.
As indicated earlier, work was already under way on a strategy this past spring. We established a federal-provincial-territorial connectivity committee. Federal-provincial groups have existed before, but we formalized it.
In June, the department launched a national digital and data strategy consultation, in which connectivity was the foundational component.
On September 25, Minister Bains released the economic strategy tables report, which focused on six sectors. This included the importance of broadband and digital infrastructure for economic growth, innovation and social inclusion.
Finally, on October 26 of last year, the federal-provincial-territorial ministers met. They agreed as a group to make broadband a priority, and to work together to that end. They agreed to a set of connectivity principles and to develop a long-term strategy to improve access for Canadians to high-speed Internet and mobile services. In other words, they accepted the 50/10 goal and the objective of serving Canadians with broadband as a basic service.
They did announce three specific principles: access to ensure reliable, high-quality service; collaboration to leverage all partners, and end fragmentation; and effective instruments, especially targeting market failures, so that government supports this where it is most needed in a real world context and does not crowd out private investment.
I would like to end my comments on the strategy by reminding members that the department has been very active in the digital and connectivity space for many years. It goes back to Minister Manley. There was a national broadband task force in 2001, led by David Johnston. If you look at their principles—I suspect I'll point them out to you later—you will see that they are remarkably similar to ones that are at the heart of our new strategy. The department has been committed for many years to providing programming around education related to digital and broadband activity. I can talk to you about some of those programs.
The second area of focus for the Auditor General was our two programs: Connecting Canadians, a $240-million, five-year program launched in 2014 to install last-mile connection for households; and our more recent program, connect to innovate, a $500-million, five-year program launched in 2016 primarily to support new backbone infrastructure to connect institutions such as schools and hospitals, and to ensure that communities have access to broadband.
I do want to stress that the findings of the audit focus solely on the design phase of the connect to innovate program. That's where we were at the time of the work of the Auditor General. I am pleased to report, and I have been asked to do so by Minister Bains, that the program will connect 900 communities across Canada. That's three times the program's original target of 300 communities.
Of the 900 communities, 190 are indigenous communities, some of them in the direst need of better high-speed Internet. I want to stress that above all what was targeted in this program were the areas of highest need for rural broadband, typically where the private sector is not inclined to go and that, overall, our $500 million program leveraged another $500 million, so that $1 billion is dedicated towards improved connectivity.
Let me just turn to the issue of spectrum and the issues raised there by the Auditor General. We certainly agree that the impact on rural and remote areas is a very important consideration when developing spectrum activities or licensing frameworks. We continue to develop policies that encourage service into rural areas to ensure that all Canadians will benefit from high-quality services, coverage and affordable prices. For example, we've just published a consultation on the development of similar geographic service areas for spectrum licence, known as the tier 5 consultation, which was referenced in the Auditor General's report.
What we have been doing is trying to drill down to a smaller geographical service areas so that we have a better understanding and mapping of what can be available to Canadians.
Also the 600 megahertz spectrum auction is scheduled to take place shortly. This spectrum can provide expanded rural coverage, specifically because we set aside 40% of the spectrum for regional service providers.
Let me conclude by just reaffirming that we recognize how important affordable high-speed connectivity and broadband is for rural communities and Canadians and that we all work very hard to ensure that we service and meet the objectives related to that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.