ESREN, Antigo­nish work to im­prove ser­vice

The Casket - - LOCAL - RICHARD MACKEN­ZIE richard­mac@the­cas­ket.ca

Amidst all the angst about in­ter­net and cell phone ser­vice around the ru­ral parts of the re­gion, East­ern Strait Re­gional En­ter­prise Net­work (ESREN) chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer John Beaton talks about a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment in the last year; a broad­band trust of $120 mil­lion.

Beaton was re­fer­ring to an an­nounce­ment by Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen Mc­neil last March.

“We should be able to de­liver to about 95 per cent of Nova Sco­tians the qual­ity, high-speed in­ter­net that they de­serve, quite frankly, that they re­quire,” Mc­neil, quoted at the time of the an­nounce­ment, said.

“It will al­low Nova Sco­tians, re­gard­less of where they live, to as­pire to achieve what­ever it is, whether it is in busi­ness or whether it is ed­u­ca­tional, that they choose to do,” he added.

With the an­nounce­ment, ESREN started a broad­band file to be­gin their fis­cal year (April 1).

“We es­tab­lished a broad­band com­mit­tee or task force that fo­cuses on try­ing to move the agenda for­ward and that in­cludes our mu­nic­i­pal reps, IT skills and ex­per­tise, lo­cally, with broad­band tech­nol­ogy; we meet pretty reg­u­larly,” Beaton said.

“We have even brought in some out­side ex­per­tise to help us look at what we do here as a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion. We’ve been li­ais­ing with De­velop Nova Sco­tia who is now re­spon­si­ble for putting out the trust, once it’s re­leased.”

Beaton said a lot has been learned al­ready, through the process.

“For ex­am­ple, it’s very un­likely projects will be ap­proved if they don’t in­volve some sort of pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment, the in­ter­net ser­vice providers,” he said.

“An­other thing we’re learn­ing is that they want to see a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach be­tween mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­stead of in­di­vid­ual mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties do­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from ev­ery­where, ev­ery time. They want to see a so­lu­tion which cov­ers as much ground as pos­si­ble. Those are some of the early in­di­ca­tions of what is hap­pen­ing.”

He noted an­other pos­i­tive was an an­nounce­ment by Cen­tral Nova MP Sean Fraser that there would likely be a fed­eral com­po­nent too.

“So, it’s more likely you’ll see the prov­ince do one-third, than the feds do a third and then pri­vate sec­tor/mu­nic­i­pal­ity putting in a third; that is how it’s kind of shap­ing up,” Beaton said.

“So we’re try­ing to collect as much in­for­ma­tion at this point and time as we can, about where the se­ri­ous gaps are and how it im­pacts busi­ness. We’re find­ing with all the busi­nesses we speak to, through our Busi­ness Now pro­gram, they’re be­ing im­pacted by ei­ther not hav­ing in­ter­net or hav­ing a slow con­nec­tion speed.”

Beaton said while bet­ter broad­band ser­vice has al­ways been “on the agenda” for ESREN, only now is there money in place for them to start mak­ing in­roads on the prob­lem.

“We didn’t have this as part of our strate­gic plan­ning process be­cause we couldn’t do any­thing about it with­out the fund­ing,” he said. “Now it is a num­ber one pri­or­ity for us and we’ll be work­ing di­rectly with our mu­nic­i­pal part­ners in the pri­vate sec­tor to try and get as many of these projects rolled out as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

He used the word “op­ti­mistic.”

“Very op­ti­mistic; things are hap­pen­ing and com­ing together,” he said. “How we work jointly on these projects is what is go­ing to make them suc­cess­ful or not.

“Ba­si­cally, at this point, our mes­sage is things are mov­ing, are hap­pen­ing. As far as de­tails, when will you get a bet­ter ser­vice? We don’t have the an­swer for that right now but, at this point, they (peo­ple rais­ing con­cerns) have some­thing they didn’t have a year or two ago, a com­mit­ment to move for­ward.”

Strong part­ner

The Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the County of Antigo­nish also has the in­ter­net and cell phone ser­vice prob­lem firmly in their sights.

“The County has been work­ing on cel­lu­lar, in par­tic­u­lar, for a num­ber of years,” Shirlyn Dono­van, strate­gic ini­tia­tives co-or­di­na­tor for Antigo­nish County, said in an email re­sponse to the Cas­ket.

She noted, in par­tic­u­lar, a May 2016 mo­tion where coun­cil agreed to al­lo­cate $135,000, over a three-year pe­riod, to­wards the erec­tion of two cell phone tow­ers in the District #1 and #2 ar­eas, con­tin­gent on fund­ing from the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

“We have been ac­tively seek­ing funds from provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments since this mo­tion was made and are yet to be suc­cess­ful,” Dono­van said.

“We are con­tin­u­ing to work with ESREN and other re­gional part­ners on both cel­lu­lar and broad­band ini­tia­tives and, again, ac­tively seek­ing part­ner­ship with the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments. We met with both MLA Randy Delorey and MP Sean Fraser on Mon­day (Aug. 20) to dis­cuss broad­band in­ter­net and fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties go­ing for­ward.”

She al­luded to the same fund­ing Beaton spoke of.

“There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for fund­ing on the hori­zon, but there is still a lot of work to do,” Dono­van said.

Richard Macken­zie

Veteran Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the County of Antigo­nish coun­cil­lor Mary Maclel­lan look­ing over some of the ar­ti­cles and other notes, doc­u­ments and pa­pers, she has col­lected over the years re­gard­ing prob­lems with in­ter­net and cell phone ser­vice in the county. Maclel­lan has cham­pi­oned a lot of ef­fort on be­half of coun­cil, which con­tin­ues to seek an­swers for bet­ter cov­er­age.

Richard Macken­zie

A no ser­vice mes­sage is all too fa­mil­iar for those try­ing to find in­ter­net, or cell phone ser­vice, in dif­fer­ent parts of Antigo­nish County.

Richard Macken­zie

The en­trance to the East­ern Strait Re­gional En­ter­prise Net­work (ESREN) in Antigo­nish. With fund­ing now avail­able, ESREN is able to make bet­ter in­ter­net ser­vice a pri­or­ity for the re­gion it serves.

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