By Chad Ingram
Published May 23 2018
Haliburton County will spend up to $565000on a mobile broadband expansion project through the Eastern Ontario RegionalNetwork and contribute another $40000 for a broadband internet gap analysis for theregion.
County councillors heard from Mike Rutterwho is the county's chief administrative officer but also a co-lead for EORNduring a May 23 meeting.
The mobile broadband internet expansionproject being undertaken by EORN which is owned by the Eastern OntarioWarden's Caucus is the second such project to be performed in the region. Thefirst which saw the installation of fibre-optic cable throughout the areabegan in 2010 and was completed in 2015.
While the goal of that $175-million projecthad been to connect 95 per cent of homes and businesses in eastern Ontario tohigh-speed broadband internet it fell short of that mark.
While according to EORN approximately 86per cent of homes and businesses in the region were connected in HaliburtonCounty that figure is much lower. Approximately 11300 of the county's 21750residences were connected leaving 45 per cent of them without fibre access.This was in part attributed to the county's topography.
The service provided through that projectwas up to 10 Mbps (megabits per second) for downloading and 1 Mbps foruploading a standard that is not what it once was.
“When this project was envisioned and thisproject was built Netflix didn't operate in Canada” Rutter said. “So whenyou think about how much bandwidth is consumed just by Netflix alone clearlywe need to be enhancing that level of service.”
In 2016 the CRTC ruled internet withdownload speeds of at least 50 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps to bea basic telecom service. While satellite internet is available throughout someof the county reception can be spotty.
Haliburton County's contribution to theinitial EORN project was $500000.
“The really great news I think . . . isthat resulted in investment throughout the County of Haliburton and this isjust looking at the County of Haliburton of $11 million” Rutter saidexplaining these investments represented the money put up by telecom companiesand the provincial and federal levels of government.
Rutter said that was the largest return forany of the 13 members municipalities in the EOWC.
“This is the best return on investment forany county in the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus” he said. “We received $22of investment for every one dollar county council invested. From an investmentstandpoint that is impressive.”
However Rutter acknowledged the initialproject left a substantial coverage gap.
“We know there is still certainly work tobe done and the numbers verify that” he said.
The mobile broadband expansion projectwhich like the initial project is a public-private partnership has asestimated price tag of $213 million and will entail the construction ofseveral new telecommunications towers throughout eastern Ontario.
Of that total cost $10 million is budgetedto come from the EOWC along with the separated city governments within itsarea; $71 million from the federal government; $71 million from the provincialgovernment; and $61 million from the mobile provider companies themselves.
In its 2018 budget Kathleen Wynne'sLiberal government included the $71 million at the provincial level.
“We know there's an election going on andwe know that that investment really isn't guaranteed unless the Liberals areelected” Rutter told council. “So we've been working with the other parties tomake sure that they will also commit to that and while we don't have an answerat this point we're really really confident . . . we received a reallypositive response from the other parties.”
The federal government as of yet has notmade an announcement regarding the funding request.
Some 18 per cent of the area included inthe EOWC has no coverage at all and another 16 per cent has inadequatecoverage according to EORN.
For example Rutter told councillors whenhe's at his parents' house in Wilberforce he's unable to achieve enoughcapacity to run applications on his smartphone. All the while demand forbroadband capacity is growing meaning something has to be done soon.
“We need better coverage to survive in thisworld” Rutter said.
The county's share in the project cost isbased on a weighted formula that includes the size of the area population andassessment. The county's portion will be between $437000 and $566000depending on how many of the separated cities in eastern Ontario participate.As Rutter told councillors two of the largest – Belleville and Kingston – havealready agreed to fund their share.
While the county has an option to pay offits share over a four-year period between a broadband reserve of more than$31000 and money from the county's general working reserve Rutter said themunicipality could easily cover its portion upfront.
As for timelines ideally the EOWC ishoping to receive approval of federal funding this summer negotiate agreementsthis fall issue requests for proposals next year and begin construction inthe spring of 2020.
Council agreed to funding HaliburtonCounty's portion of the project as well as an additional $40000 for its partin a detailed up-to-date analysis of internet coverage gaps throughout thearea.
“It's a job half done and congratulationsto all that sit around this table and the staff and EORN and whatever to get uswhere we are” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. “The technology israpidly accelerating things so I think to get some metrics on where we arecertainly that can't happen fast enough.”
“I can't say yes fast enough” saidAlgonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “In round one Algonquin Highlands wasthe most under-served not only in Haliburton County but in the entire easternregion. We knew then and know now that that was due to geography and density.”
Moffatt said that towers while they willbe controversial are the solution that is required.