Originally published by the Daily Observer
Author: Sean Chase
Renfrew County is being asked to kick in between $895,000 and $1 million to improve cellular service in Eastern Ontario.
Gaps in eastern Ontario have been mapped by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), an arm of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC). The network plans to close those gaps by creating more infrastructure, such as transmission towers.
During County council’s monthly session, Hastings County chief administrative officer Jim Pine made a presentation on behalf of EORN and announced a proposed $213 million project that would include private and government funding to bring to reality. It is also a critical undertaking given that areas without sufficient service stand to be at an even greater disadvantage when the next wave of technology, known as fifth-generation or 5G, arrives in Ontario as early as 2020.
“This is the number one priority,” said Pine. “We know there are a lot of gaps in your county and those are the things that are going to be addressed with this project. We are filling in the gaps and improving capacity.”
Last year, EORN submitted a detailed business case for cell expansion to the federal and provincial governments. The project, slated to begin in 2019, is expected to create 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs over 10 years and spur $420 million in new business revenue. It aims to improve public safety and health care, and improve coverage and capacity so users can do research and business over the Internet or mobile devices. The initiative will also improve coveage along the Highway 41 corridor.
It will be funded through a $10 million commitment from the EOWC. The City of Pembroke, as well as other major cities in eastern Ontario, will be approached for funding. Mobile carriers will be contributing $61 million, while Premier Kathleen Wynne recently announced a $71 million commitment to the project. Pine said it is hoped the federal government will match the provincial number. Request for Proposals will be issued next March will tenders awards by the summer.
EORN scored success with its first project launched in 2010. That $175 million initiative covered 50,000 square kilometres of coverage area with 423,000 homes receiving up to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) in upload speed, as well as 63 fibred business parks. It’s estimated to have spun off $260 million for the region and spurred $100 million in new investments in eastern Ontario. Renfrew County contributed $848,848 to that project which resulted in a $16-million investment and provided 29,494 households with high-speed Internet.
“We are expanding people’s ability to connect,” added Pine. “We need to be able to do business on the Internet to thrive.”
The economic reality for many municipalities in the county is that without high-speed capacity there is a challenge to attract businesses. Greater Madawaska Mayor Glenda McKay said that many folks in her community try running their businesses from home or working from home but can’t due to slow Internet speeds. Some could uproot and move out of the province, she warned.
“From a business perspective with cheaper hydro costs and a lower minimum wage in Quebec, it is hard to attract business in eastern Ontario,” said McKay.
McNab/Braeside Mayor Tom Peckett expressed his frustration that cellular coverage is being addressed before the lack of Internet capacity is completely addressed. He said his township is probably the five per cent of the county that still doesn’t have high-speed.
“I’m trying to run a municipality with unreliable Internet,” said Peckett. “I’m still disappointed. We are moving on to phones and to me high-speed broadband has not been completed.”
In addition, EORN is seeking $40,000 from the county to finance a $520,000 gap analysis. This analysis will include an updated cell gap analysis and 5G readiness assessment.