/Hundreds of millions to fill broadband gaps

Hundreds of millions to fill broadband gaps

Published Sept. 28 2016

It will cost about $300 million to fill thegaps in mobile broadband service in the part of Ontario covered by the EasternOntario Regional Network (EORN).

Jim Pine chief administrative officer forHastings County and a co-leader of the EORN team visited Haliburton Countycouncillors during a Sept. 28 meeting.

Between 2010 and 2015 EORN embarked on a$175-million project that aimed to connect 95 per cent of homes and businesseswithin its jurisdiction with broadband high-speed Internet.

That area includes Haliburton County andthe 12 other municipalities that comprise the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucusas well as six separated cities including Belleville Kingston Quinte WestGananoque Prescott and Cornwall.

Haliburton County contributed $500000 tothe initial EORN project and as Pine pointed out received about $11 millionof work in return including a $6.5-million fibre backhaul network.

“That's probably I think one of the highestreturns but we know there's still gaps” Pine said.

There are still large swaths of HaliburtonCounty without access to reliable high-speed Internet. Rather than connecting95 per cent of homes and businesses in the region the initial EORN project connectedabout 86 per cent of them with an approximate 14 per cent coverage gap.

“Yes we can fix it” Pine said.

However due to tough topography in a largegeographic area with a widely dispersed population that fix will not be cheapand will require the construction of transmission towers.

“We'd definitely need new towers across theregion” Pine said emphasizing that people want to be able to work from theirmobile devices not just at home but also while they're on the move.

The anticipated cost of the build is $212million.

On top of improving Internet access forresidential and commercial purposes EORN is working toward a secure networkfor first responders who can also experience communication problems due to theconnectivity gaps in the region.

The cost for that project is an estimated$113 million for a total of $325.

However Pine said if the projects werecombined and shared towers the total cost should be about $278 million.

The EORN team is working on grantapplications it intends to submit to the provincial and federal governments byyear's end.

Members have also been meeting with areaMPs and MPPs.

“They've all said to us local support willbe absolutely essential” Pine said.

EORN is asking Haliburton County to pass asupport resolution for the project which along with support resolutions fromother municipalities will be used to make its business case.

Pine said the EORN team is hoping to hearback on grant approvals in 2017 and begin construction on the project in 2018.

Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County WardenCarol Moffatt said reliable Internet for the county would mean towers.

“We have more and more people wanting tomove to their cottages and create a life here” Moffatt said. “Reliable mobilebroadband means cell towers and there's no way around that. We don't have anyother choice.”

While Moffatt acknowledged that somecottagers coming to area to unplug have made it clear they don't want to lookat towers “we are trying to building a year-round community” she said.

On the consumer side Minden Hills ReeveBrent Devolin said something needs to be done about the cost of data plans.

“We can't have the cost of data 20 timeswhat it is for a fixed rate” he said.