By Chad Ingram
The Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project will see between 30 and 40 new communication towers constructed throughout Haliburton County and the entire project, which includes the construction of 300 new towers throughout Eastern Ontario and the upgrading of 300 existing ones, is expected to be completed in four years and three months.
It was announced on March 19 that Rogers Communications had been the successful bidder on the mammoth project, and during an April 28 online meeting, county and municipal councillors heard from representatives of EORN and Rogers about how the project would unfold.
The public-private partnership aims to ensure 99 per cent of the area has cellular calling service; that 95 per cent of the area has sufficient coverage to run video and applications; and that 85 per cent has the capability to stream high-definition video. The project has been in the planning and fundraising stages for more than four years, with the provincial and federal governments each contributing $71 million. Municipal governments throughout the region are contributing $10 million (the County of Haliburton up to $565,000), and while initially it was expected a private sector partner would contribute $61 million for a total project value of $213, it was announced last month that Rogers will contribute $150 million, pushing its total value past $300 million.
Between 30 and 40 new towers will be constructed throughout Haliburton County, at locations yet to be determined. As EORN CEO David Fell noted, each of the tower locations must go through the local land use planning process, which will give municipal governments some control over where towers end up being constructed. “Ourselves and all of our other partners, definitely have some say,” Fell said.
Rogers will also consider privately owned locations for towers and landowners who feel they may have a suitable location are encouraged to get in touch with the company.
“We absolutely welcome those inquiries,” Linnae MacKenzie of Rogers said, adding the company offers fair market value when it comes to lease rates for the use of private property.
“One of the things we hear most about is the blinking lights,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, wondering about colours and whether reflectors could be used to mitigate the amount of light seen by residents.
“Obviously, the lights are there for safety reasons,” MacKenzie said, adding the company would co-operate with residents or lake associations. “Those would absolutely be concerns we would want to work with them on.”
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy noted the presentation contained the phrase “major roadway” a number of times, and reiterated that many county residents live on side roads or privately maintained roads near lakes.
Algonquin Highlands Councillor Lisa Barry wondered about research on the effects of radio frequencies on people and animals.
Sameer Sheth of Rogers said federal regulations around radio frequencies were very strict and that the company follows all regulations, adding they were available on the EORN website. Sheth said there was also a resource guide available with answers to questions pertaining to 5G internet.
Acknowledging that better wireless service requires the construction of towers, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said she hoped there would not be too much blowback from residents, and wondered if anything could be done to prepare for that.
“Where there are concerns, please allow us a chance to address it, Sheth said.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he thought the COVID-19 pandemic meant more residents were acceptant and aware of the need for better connectivity throughout the county.
“I don’t think there’s going to be as much resistance as there has been in the past,” Ryall said.