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This article was published 16/3/2010 (4446 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Industry Minister Tony Clement apologized Tuesday for letters mailed to community groups across Canada telling them their funding for Internet access was being cut.
Clement said the letters were the result of confusion because the government has altered the source of most funding for the 16-year-old Community Access Program. However, he assured the groups that if they got funding in the past, it will continue.
"I can tell you this program is in fact being funded this year," he said in a scrum with the media called to correct misinformation provided by his department a day earlier.
CAP provides hundreds of community groups, such as libraries, hospitals, local restaurants, seniors organizations and community centres -- many in rural and northern communities -- with $4,000 to $5,000 a year for computer hardware, technical support and even Internet service providers.
It is intended to ensure people who can't afford access to the Internet have places to go near their homes.
Last week, dozens of organizations received letters from Industry Canada saying sites within 25 kilometres of a public library would no longer be eligible for the funds.
Clement said that is wrong. He said it's true the original funding "envelope" for CAP has been reduced from $15 million last year to $2 million this year. However, the rest has been transferred to a new rural broadband strategy program that ultimately aims to get people connected in their homes.
"This is a piece of a broader rural broadband strategy we are pursuing," he said. "We have a $200 million pot of money designed for increasing access to households in rural and remote areas. I am in the final stages of finalizing the list that will get this additional rural broadband funding."
In the meantime, the CAP sites will continue to be funded, Clement said.
"As we ramp up the funding for households to get access to broadband, that will give us the opportunity to ramp down the funding for the other program," he said. "We don't want anybody to get left in the lurch by having the funding cut this year while the broadband strategy to households is still rolling out. So that's why we're in a transition period right now."
Clement said he regrets the confusion.
But Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton is skeptical.
"There is something really fishy going on here," she said.
She thinks the government did plan to cut the off the community groups, but was swayed by outrage in its rural voter base.
Ashton said she plans to pursue the issue when Clement appears before the Industry Committee later this week.
More than 250 organizations in Manitoba received funding from CAP last year.