Ru­ral In­ter­net ef­forts con­tinue

West­ern REN work­ing with mu­nic­i­pal units to help bring high-speed In­ter­net to more peo­ple

Tri-County Vanguard - - THEN AND NOW - ERIC BOURQUE TRICOUNTY VAN­GUARD

Few is­sues have dom­i­nated the news in south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia dur­ing the past half-cen­tury more than trans­porta­tion.

Whether it was ferry ser­vice, bus ser­vice, the Yar­mouth air­port or maybe the train (while we still had one), trans­porta­tion-re­lated top­ics con­sis­tently have been among the re­gion’s big­gest news­mak­ers.

And these days – in keep­ing with the “trans­porta­tion” theme – much of the talk is about the in­for­ma­tion high­way, no­tably the on­go­ing ef­fort to bring high-speed In­ter­net to ru­ral ar­eas.

En­sur­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble have ac­cess to broad­band ser­vices re­mains a pri­or­ity for the West­ern Re­gional En­ter­prise Net­work (REN), which has been work­ing with a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal units in the tri-county re­gion to help make it hap­pen.

In late 2016, the CRTC de­clared broad­band In­ter­net was a ba­sic telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice, and those who wel­comed the rul­ing in­cluded the West­ern REN, which al­ready had been work­ing on bring­ing high-speed In­ter­net to places that didn’t have it.

Also in late 2016, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced an ini­tia­tive whereby it would in­vest up to $500 mil­lion to bring high-speed In­ter­net to 300 ru­ral and re­mote Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties by 2021. The West­ern REN didn’t get any fund­ing when it ap­plied for that par­tic­u­lar pro­gram – Con­nect to In­no­vate – but more ini­tia­tives have since been an­nounced.

“We knew that these fund­ing pots were com­ing,” said Angélique LeBlanc, CEO of the West­ern REN, “but they just weren’t ac­ces­si­ble yet, so as these pools are open­ing up, we’re in a po­si­tion now where we’re ready to hit the ground run­ning. We have stake­hold­ers at the ta­ble. We have the depth in terms of un­der­stand­ing what the tech­nol­ogy is, where it’s needed and how to pig­gy­back on ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture most ef­fec­tively. “

The en­ter­prise net­work has been work­ing on the ru­ral broad­band is­sue with the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Digby, Yar­mouth, Ar­gyle and Bar­ring­ton.

Evan Nemeth, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer (re­search lead) with the West­ern REN, says the idea is to make the best use of pub­lic dol­lars, lever­ag­ing the in­fra­struc­ture that’s al­ready there.

“There’s a cou­ple of ma­jor play­ers in In­ter­net ser­vices in the prov­ince and the CAOs from the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, as well as REN staff, have been meet­ing with these In­ter­net ser­vice providers to get a sense of what’s al­ready in the re­gion and to pre­pare our­selves for fu­ture fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he said.

Since the CRTC’s de­ci­sion of late 2016, a num­ber of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties re­ceived pro­vin­cial fund­ing for In­ter­net, “but it’s still a big di­vide,” Nemeth said. “There’s a gap. The more ru­ral you get, the big­ger the gap is.”

Ad­dress­ing that gap will take lots of work and money. Re­fer­ring to the $500 mil­lion Ot­tawa an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2016, Nemeth said all of that likely could have been spent here in Nova Sco­tia. (The prov­ince re­ceived $17.7 mil­lion from the Con­nect to In­no­vate pro­gram.)

Given the im­por­tance of the In­ter­net, it re­mains a pri­or­ity for the West­ern REN and the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in­volved.

“To be able to do busi­ness from south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia on a global scale, it is crit­i­cal that we have that in­for­ma­tion high­way,” LeBlanc said. “Of­ten­times, I think the down­load­ing speed may be ad­e­quate, but when you’re up­load­ing a pa­per to sub­mit or any­thing like that, that’s where you run into prob­lems, where you’re try­ing to meet time­lines and things like that.”

They’ve heard from real­tors too, she said, about how In­ter­net ac­cess can im­pact prop­erty val­ues and af­fect peo­ple’s de­ci­sion about where to live.

The good news, of­fi­cials with the West­ern REN say, is that ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment, rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of this is­sue.

Said Nemeth, “De­velop Nova Sco­tia, the Crown cor­po­ra­tion that’s lead­ing this file for the prov­ince, re­cently said to us, ‘we’ve gath­ered enough in­for­ma­tion about what the prob­lem is. We know that the prob­lem ex­ists and now it’s just about solv­ing it.’”

ERIC BOURQUE

Angélique LeBlanc, CEO of the West­ern Re­gional En­ter­prise Net­work, and Evan Nemeth, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer (re­search lead) with the West­ern REN. Ef­forts to bring high-speed In­ter­net to more ru­ral ar­eas re­main a pri­or­ity for the en­ter­prise net­work.

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