Public/Private Partnership Strengthening Mobile Broadband Service Across Eastern Ontario

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Last fall, the CRTC announced new targets and funding to ensure rural and remote areas across the country have access to voice and broadband internet access services on fixed and mobile wireless networks.  Among the targets were upload and download speeds, unlimited data options for fixed broadband services and access to current mobile wireless technology to all homes, business and along major Canadian roads.

High speed internet access is viewed by all levels of government as a critical economic development tool.  The $500 million federal fund behind the federal Connect to Innovate program was established to enhance “…our rural and remote communities’ ability to innovate, participate in the digital economy and create jobs for middle-class families. This investment will improve the daily lives of Canadians,” according to federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.

The applications that rely on connectivity are rapidly expanding.  Even in the traditional agriculture sector, the use of internet applications are growing, as technology on the farm referred to as “precision agriculture” relies on data delivery.  The OFA calls broadband an essential service, comparable to the arrival of electricity in the 1930’s and is putting pressure on the province to invest in broadband in rural areas, calling those with no connectivity “blackout zones”.

Low population densities in rural areas make internet networks unattractive for private providers, so public/private partnerships are required to bring high speed internet across the province.

In eastern Ontario, Peterborough County is a member of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) which is a not-for-profit organization formed to meet the need for effective, faster broadband access in rural areas across the region.  It was created by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus representing 13 municipal governments.  In 2014, in partnership with all government levels as well as private sector service providers, the organization completed the construction of a $170 million rural broadband network providing high-speed internet through wired or fixed wireless broadband access to about 90% of the region, reaching 93.6% of Peterborough County residences.

Their task is not complete as the evolution of broadband continues driven by demand for bandwidth and speeds that is growing more than 50% each year.  New devices gobble up network capacity, as smartphones consume 24 times more data than a traditional cell phone and tablets use 122 times more data than the traditional phone.  To meet this demand, EORN’s next task to further develop broadband and high speed access to meet the CRCT data speed targets of 50 Mbps for downloading and 10 Mbps for uploading  by improving cellular networks and closing coverage and capacity gaps with new towers.  The total price tag for the project is $213 million.

It begins with an analysis of the existing service gap in each county in Eastern Ontario.  A strategy will follow to extend mobile broadband services to secure 5G capacity and at least 2 internet connection options across the region.  In addition to fueling job creation, supporting technological integration and improved social connectivity, the project is expected to contribute to improved public safety and health care delivery and integrated transportation systems.

Peterborough County’s share of the $10 million municipal contribution to the project is forecast at $750,000.  The rest of the funding will come from federal and provincial broadband development funds and private carriers who will build the system upgrades through a tender process.  Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2020.  KG

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