SW in­ter­net ac­cel­er­a­tor seeks $700K from city

The London Free Press - - LOCAL - ME­GAN STACEY THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

Slow in­ter­net? Just wait till 2019.

Lon­don coun­cil is be­ing asked to plug $700,000 into a pro­vin­cial pro­gram lay­ing the ground­work for high-speed in­ter­net across South­west­ern Ontario.

“It’s great for the re­gion, and what’s great for the re­gion is great for Lon­don,” said Ge­off Ho­gan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of SWIFT, the South­west­ern Ontario In­te­grated Fi­bre Tech­nol­ogy pro­gram.

The $300- mil­lion SWIFT project be­gan in 2016 with a prom­ise to con­nect mil­lions of On­tar­i­ans — es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas — to speedy broad­band con­nec­tions. Ottawa and Queen’s Park pledged more than $280 mil­lion to build a fi­bre-op­tic “spine” through the prov­ince.

It’s been slow go­ing, but if coun­cil OK’s the funds, SWIFT will start build­ing the fi­bre-op­tic net­work in Lon­don next year. The city-wide sys­tem will be done by late 2022.

“The real work is go­ing to be­gin in early 2019,” Ho­gan said. “Just like with any in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram, it doesn’t hap­pen overnight. It will take a cou­ple of years.”

Bet­ter ac­cess to high-speed in­ter­net through that in­fra­struc­ture may even drive eco­nomic growth, said Mat Da­ley, the city’s IT boss.

“(It) has the po­ten­tial to fa­cil­i­tate greater eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in ar­eas as­so­ci­ated with dig­i­tal me­dia, tech­nol­ogy and gam­ing sec­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ing — it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more tech­no­log­i­cal — and there are also op­por­tu­ni­ties around health care,” he said.

Sim­ply put, peo­ple need speedy in­ter­net.

Lon­don is one of three key “nodes” in the SWIFT project, and that could pay off for the city by lur­ing busi­nesses and res­i­dents look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on strong in­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture.

It’s about creat­ing an invit­ing en­vi­ron­ment and solid foun­da­tion for in­dus­tries that de­pend on tech­nol­ogy.

“For the growth of th­ese sec­tors, whether it’s health or ed­u­ca­tion or the dig­i­tal-creative por­tion of the econ­omy, this is a step­ping stone,” said Rosanna Wil­cox, Lon­don’s direc­tor of com­mu­nity and eco­nomic in­no­va­tion.

And that doesn’t just mean tech star­tups.

“Frankly, we con­sider broad­band an es­sen­tial util­ity now,” Ho­gan said. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to our so­ci­ety . . . and ev­ery­one should have equal ac­cess.”

And sup­port­ing SWIFT could re­sult in even more in­vest­ment in the area, as pri­vate in­ter­net providers tap into that fi­bre-op­tic back­bone and ex­pand their in­fra­struc­ture.

That kind of rip­ple ef­fect will be cru­cial for ru­ral res­i­dents strug­gling to find re­li­able or fast in­ter­net. SWIFT’s fi­bre-op­tic back­bone will let in­ter­net com­pa­nies cre­ate “last mile” con­nec­tions — from the main line to ru­ral roads and homes — lack­ing to­day.

“It’s go­ing to be more cost-ef­fec­tive for (in­ter­net providers) to reach more cus­tomers,” said Matt Ross, a city hall IT man­ager.

Some ben­e­fi­cia­ries may even be within city bound­aries.

“This is pri­mar­ily a ru­ral project, but when we look at the bound­aries of the City of Lon­don, there are sig­nif­i­cant por­tions that are agri­cul­tural,” Ho­gan said.

Ho­gan be­lieves the project also will bring down in­ter­net prices, as providers face in­creased com­pe­ti­tion and im­proved in­fra­struc­ture.

The SWIFT fund­ing re­quest will go to coun­cil’s cor­po­rate ser­vices com­mit­tee next week. mstacey@postmedia.com

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