At the Municipal Council meeting of July 20, the lack of reliable access to internet across North Grenville was thoroughly discussed.
The municipality is working toward a future in which the availability, price, and reliability of internet connection is the same for all residents across North Grenville. There is, however, a lot of work to be done to make this a reality.
The meeting included a delegation from CIP CommTech and Storm Internet, who rooted their presentation in a Broadband Study that they have conducted across the municipality. The Study was intended to find out where deficits in internet service were located in order to make suggestions on how to better serve the community.
The study revealed that, “more than 90% of residential and 100% of commercial customers are unsatisfied with their current level of service.” While the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recommends a minimum connection of 50/10 Mbps, only residents of the more “urban” areas of our Municipality have access to such connection. Many in more rural areas are serviced only with speeds as low as 5/1.
This discussion follows a smaller meeting on the same topic between members of the Community & Economic Development Advisory Committee (CEDAC) and consultants from CIP CommTech and Storm Internet on July 5.
Mayor Nancy Peckford felt it was important to bring the conversation to Council and to the community, “because there are some short and mid term implications, that the Municipality is already advancing, and that we will have to consider moving forward, both from a budget perspective and from a strategic advocacy perspective.”
Birket Foster, of Storm Internet, recommended that strategic priorities include a focus on investment and the support of current initiatives. Hillary Geneau, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, confirmed that the Municipality is acting on this recommendation.
For instance, Birket said, “if we want to get internet everywhere, and [the Municipality is] digging up a whole stretch of road, please put a conduit in.” Indeed, the work to be done on County Road 44 will be including extra conduits in which to run cables.
Birket also stressed that the Municipality work to procure government funding to close the gap between rural and urban internet access. Individuals alone cannot afford the infrastructure, and the private sector is unlikely to undertake projects in which a break even point is not in sight.
He encourages the Municipality to continue to participate in the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s (EORN) Gig Project in the lobby for greater provincial and federal funding to help get 1000mb to every home in order to put rural areas at “an even footing with an urban area.” Unfortunately, Mayor Peckford stated that through her recent conversations with EORN, it would seem that GIG is not being funded to the extent that EORN had hoped.
There is, however, a new provincial Connect Ontario program. This program is intended to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to bid for provincial support when bringing service to underserved areas. It remains undetermined if North Grenville qualifies as underserved. Another option for North Grenville is to consider a public/private partnership.
Birket and Hillary have both studied Pictou, a county in Nova Scotia, as an example of such a partnership. The community of Pictou led, provided initial fundings, and engaged a couple of ISPs to create a Municipally owned open access network.
Councillor John Barclay said that, “with this report, I think the interesting information is that rollout can be faster if we explore a public/private partnership.” He “would like to see us take a more active role in finding out what will work.”
He put forward a motion, which passed with support from the other councillors, to “move to direct staff to explore relationships with smaller ISPs, including a revenue sharing model.”
Rachel Everett-Fry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times