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COVID-19 pandemic galvanizes need for better internet in the County

Marcia Wallace, Prince Edward County CAO

Prince Edward County CAO Marcia Wallace is proposing a plan to seek better, and broader, internet throughout the municipality.

“This gap in infrastructure has become all the more noticeable given the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to on-line platforms for a range of services from health care to education, to e-commerce,” her report states.

Her report to council’s committee of the whole Thursday afternoon requests council to allow staff to issue a Request for Proposal that offers free access to municipal towers and buildings, as well as unused fibre connnections for a five-year period, in exchange for an agreement to provide internet service to underserved areas in the County.

The municipality earns, on average, about $40,000 per year from existing agreements that have expired, or are due to expire.

Access to reliable internet has long been an issue for rural communities.

Efforts to improve internet access have been focused on getting ‘backbone’ broadband infrastructure close to the community – an iniative support by the County with rural municipal counterparts across eastern Ontario as part of the Eastern Ontario Rural Network (EORN) project. The County most recent supported EORN in a project to improve cell coverage for mobile use.

“A gap remains, however, with getting internet to the individual home or business, particularly in rural or remote areas across the County,” said Wallace. “This issue is referred to by the government of Canada as ‘last mile’ projects that aim to provide high speed broadband service.”

Wallace said the County does know anecdotally that areas south of the County including West Lake, Cherry Valley and South Bay tend to be areas still experiencing significant gaps, or last mile connectivity issues.

“While providers are working to eliminate connectivity and last mile issues, the need still remains.”

To date the County has four agreements for access to municipal water towers and other towers – Bell (two sites at tower at Roblin Lake Ameliasburgh), Rogers (one site at Wellington water tower), Xplornet (four sites at Consecon Water Tower, Wellington Water Tower, Sophiasburgh garage tower and Bloomfield water tower) and Kingston Online Services (two sites at Consecon water tower and Wellington water tower).

The muncipality has excess capacity in its fibre infrastructure within the Picton town limits.

“In particular, there is ‘dark fibre’ that is owned by the municipality that has the potential to carry network or internet traffic,” she said. “To date, no agreement exists with any service providers for access to the fibre.”

She noted Kingston Online Services (KOS), Xplornet and Tri-Canadian Energy, among others are focused on connecting rural parts of the County.

The municipality has provided letters of support to providers seeking federal funding – most recently to Cogeco, that is proposing to build out fibre infrastructure.

“The upfront costs to build a reliable network are significant, and while there are commitments by federal and provincial governments to invest in connecting individuals, there remains considerable challenges to implement universal connectivity across the County without incentives,” stated Wallace.

Under the Municipal Act, the County is unable to provide a financial incentive to a business that is not available to all.

A competitive Request for Proposal would offer incentive to companies that enter into an agreement with the municipality.

Filed Under: Local News

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