TORONTO -- As Ontario students face the reality of spending more time in front of a computer screen rather than inside a classroom, the provincial government is asking the federal government for more than half a billion dollars in funding to expand broadband access.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott wrote a letter to the federal government Sunday asking for "immediate, urgent support" to address the current lack of broadband access in portions of rural and Northern Ontario. 

The letter states that while Ontario residents, many of whom were forced to work from home during the lockdown-phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, needed the internet to "maintain normalcy," broadband access will also be central to the "recovery and growth" of the economy. 

The letter also acknowledges that a lack of reliable internet access in rural Ontario could leave students with gaps in their education, especially as the government looks to develop a distance learning strategy in the event of a second wave of the pandemic. 

While the Ford government has committed to spending $315 million over the course of five years to expand broadband access province-wide, it's requesting "a heightened degree of collaboration" from the federal government to speed up the effort of bringing nearly 3,000 Ontario schools – including 99 in Northern Ontario – online. 

The federal government is expected to launch a $1.7 billion universal broadband fund this year, with a goal of every Canadian having reliable internet access over the next 10 years. According to published reports, the Trudeau government is looking to accelerate the pace of investment amid the pandemic but has yet to provide any details about a timeline. 

While the letter from the Ontario government doesn't specify a dollar amount that the province is looking for in order to widen broadband access, sources say the government is looking for a proportional portion of the $1.7 billion fund. 

Based on population size, Ontario's share would represent 39 per cent of the overall federal fund, or roughly $663 million.