‘Time to act’ on Net gaps

eorn await­ing an­swers from prov­ince, feds

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NEWS - LUKE HENDRY [email protected]­media.com

a ma­jor project to im­prove cel­lu­lar and in­ter­net ser­vice across east­ern on­tario re­mains in limbo pend­ing fed­eral fund­ing and a cru­cial rec­om­men­da­tion from on­tario.

The east­ern on­tario War­dens’ cau­cus is propos­ing a $213-mil­lion ex­pan­sion of its east­ern on­tario re­gional net­work, or eorn. The cau­cus’s 13 coun­ties and 10 cities are home to a to­tal of 1.2 mil­lion res­i­dents, in­clud­ing leeds and Grenville.

The net­work’s ac­claimed first phase be­tween 2010 and 2015 in­creased ac­cess to ru­ral broad­band in­ter­net. Two years later there were at least 120,000 cus­tomers us­ing it.

The sec­ond phase’s aim is to close vir­tu­ally all gaps in cel­lu­lar ser­vice across the re­gion while im­prov­ing ser­vice and ca­pac­ity. a pub­lic safety broad­band net­work for emergency ser­vices is also planned.

“about one-quar­ter of the area where there are homes, busi­nesses or ma­jor roads in the re­gion can­not ac­cess any cel­lu­lar ser­vices,” the net­work’s web­site reads.

Those gaps are the “no. 1 barrier” to grow­ing the re­gion’s busi­nesses, Hast­ings county chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Jim Pine said. He and fel­low caos stephane Parisien of the united coun­ties of Prescott and rus­sell mike rutter of Hal­ibur­ton county are the net­work’s co-lead­ers.

Pine said busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents alike are united in their mes­sage: “Fix this.”

“We want to be busi­ness-ready and open for busi­ness in east­ern on­tario and this is the fun­da­men­tal build­ing block,” he said.

Given govern­ments’ re­liance upon in­ter­net and cel­lu­lar ser­vices, their staff, in­clud­ing first re­spon­ders, would ben­e­fit from the im­prove­ments, he said.

mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have com­mit­ted fund­ing for tech­ni­cal work.

The net­work’s pro­posal seeks one-third of the to­tal project cost from on­tario, canada and the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try. Govern­ments re­ceived the busi­ness case in may 2017. com­pa­nies will be ap­proached af­ter fed­eral ap­proval, if granted.

The last on­tario govern­ment pledged its $71-mil­lion share in June 2018; the prov­ince’s new govern­ment has main­tained that com­mit­ment.

But 18 months af­ter the busi­ness case was sub­mit­ted, there’s been nei­ther fed­eral ap­proval nor the pro­vin­cial rec­om­men­da­tion re­quired for it.

“it will be up to the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the prov­ince of on­tario to pri­or­i­tize their projects and sub­mit them to the fed­eral govern­ment for con­sid­er­a­tion,” in­fra­struc­ture canada spokes­woman Jen Powroz said via email.

canada and on­tario agreed in march 2018 to pro­vide more than $11.8 bil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing via the in­vest­ing in canada plan. it gives on­tario $250 mil­lion “to sup­port projects that im­prove the qual­ity of life in ru­ral and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties,” Powroz wrote.

“in­fra­struc­ture canada has not re­ceived any new fund­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for ex­panded mo­bile ser­vice from the prov­ince of on­tario,” she added, re­fer­ring ques­tions to pro­vin­cial staff.

“The project in ques­tion is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion,” on­tario in­fra­struc­ture min­istry spokes­woman sofia sousa-dias told Post­media net­work via email, not­ing it is one of many be­ing con­sid­ered.

“The prov­ince will re­lease a strat­egy in 2019 de­signed to ex­pand broad­band, dig­i­tal ser­vices and cel­lu­lar ac­cess in un­served and un­der­served ar­eas,” she wrote.

sousa-dias said on­tario re­mains “com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that com­mu­ni­ties across on­tario have ac­cess to crit­i­cal broad­band and cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity.”

Pine said it’s “en­cour­ag­ing ” but added, “it’s time to act.

“ev­ery mP and mPP in east­ern on­tario is supporting this.”

He said mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of the war­dens’ cau­cus are now up­dat­ing their eco­nomic strat­egy.

“The busi­ness com­mu­nity has been telling us over the last num­ber of months that the no. 1 con­cern they have is the lack of con­nec­tiv­ity.”

The plan is to start con­struc­tion, in­clud­ing build­ing new trans­mis­sion tow­ers and ren­o­vat­ing ex­ist­ing ones, in 2020.

“if we don’t get an an­swer soon, that’s go­ing to push it all back­wards and then we miss the build­ing cy­cle, the con­struc­tion sea­son,” Pine said, em­pha­siz­ing the need to fi­nal­ize con­tracts in 2019.

it’s es­ti­mated the work will cre­ate the equiv­a­lent of 3,000 full­time jobs both dur­ing con­struc­tion and for as many as 10 years af­ter­ward.

as part of an an­nual plan­ning ses­sion, the war­dens’ cau­cus was to meet to­day in kingston with mPs and mPPs.

“We’re putting a big push on in the next month or so to get some an­swers,” Pine said.

The net­work’s lat­est map­ping shows gaps in cover­age are ac­tu­ally larger than first thought in 2014, he said.

not only is it in­con­ve­nient, Pine noted, but it also pre­vents 911 calls from be­ing made along long stretches of high­way where lit­tle other help is avail­able.

While work­ing to close the gaps, the net­work has longer­range plans. The even­tual goal is to reach a na­tional stan­dard, set by the cana­dian ra­dio-tele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mis­sion, of a down­load speed of 50 megabits per sec­ond and an up­load speed of 10 mbps. dial-up in­ter­net by tele­phone line is much, much slower — 0.056 mbps.

The com­mis­sion wants to see 90 per cent of cana­dian house­holds with the so-called “50/10” ser­vice by 2021 and has an­nounced $750 mil­lion to help.

in ad­di­tion, the eorn is this month launch­ing a de­tailed en­gi­neer­ing and cost anal­y­sis on the prospect of reach­ing the “gold stan­dard” of trans­mis­sions speeds of one gi­ga­bit — 1,000 megabits — per sec­ond.

“That study should be done by sum­mer,” Pine said.

if ser­vice could be brought to that am­bi­tious level, said Pine, “then we could truly say we are one of the best-con­nected re­gions in north amer­ica.”

LUKE HENDRY/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Hast­ings County chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Jim Pine holds his cell­phone at county head­quar­ters in Belleville. He’s a leader of the East­ern On­tario Re­gional Net­work, which is still wait­ing for fed­eral fund­ing and a pro­vin­cial en­dorse­ment 18 months af­ter the govern­ments re­ceived the project’s busi­ness case.

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