Ontario will be investing about $680 million to expand and improve broadband internet and cellular access.

The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford in Milden Hills, Ont. Wednesday afternoon alongside Minister of Finance Rod Phillips, Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott and President of the Treasury Board Peter Bethlenfalvy.

“This pandemic has shown us the importance of access to high-speed internet and reliable cell service access that so many of us take for granted,” Ford said at a news conference.

“From allowing people to stay home and work remotely to connecting businesses with their customers, from helping students work from home to staying connected to those we love, reliable high speed internet is no longer a luxury. It is necessary for everyday life.”

The government did not specify if the money was earmarked for any particular region, project, or technology, saying only that the investment is “the start of many conversations” with municipalities and telecommunications providers.

“We are all in this together,” Scott said. “When more money is applied to more people at the table, we're able to roll out more projects, faster.”

The new funding is in addition to a previous $315 million commitment over five years by the provincial government for shovel-ready projects that will increase internet and cell service access.

The minister of finance will officially present the investment as part of the province’s budget, which is expected to be released on Thursday. It will be filed under the “recovery” section of the government’s three-pillar plan.

“There are long-standing structural barriers that we all know that without action will stand in the way,” Phillips said at the news conference. “And that includes a lack of reliable internet in many communities. So tomorrow's budget will begin to remove the biggest barriers to growth for communities across the province.”

The announcement comes a few months after the government committed to seven projects that will give rural and Indigenous communities in northern Ontario access to reliable internet.

The province also reiterated a call for the federal government to release money from their $1.7 billion universal broadband fund.

More than 1.4 million people in Ontario, or about 12 per cent of households, do not have broadband or cellular access, the government said.