EORN proposes mobile broadband expansion to Algonquin Highlands
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | September 21, 2017|
Members of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) presented Algonquin Highlands council with a proposal Sept. 8 to expand mobile broadband connectivity across Eastern Ontario.
The $213 million public-private partnership proposal aims to improve the reach and quality of cellular services in the region, and was submitted to both the federal and provincial governments in May.
Mayor Carol Moffatt said she hopes the proposal, if its goes through, will deliver significant results.
“The first phase of the EORN project didn’t serve [Algonquin Highlands] very well,” she told The Highlander, referring to the Broadband for Eastern Ontario project in 2010, which delivered Internet speeds of up to 10 mbps to 89 per cent of Eastern Ontario. “It’s a serious challenge for Algonquin Highlands.”
Moffatt pointed to the township’s geological barriers, such as rolling plains and large rock formations, as reasons why the anticipated high speeds didn’t make it to the area.
That project cost $175 million, to which Haliburton County contributed $505,175, according to a presentation made by Jim Pine, co-lead for EORN, and Lisa Severson, EORN’s communications and stakeholder relations officer.
Out of the county’s 21,752 households, 11,945 were covered, according to Mike Rutter, Haliburton County’s chief administrative officer. The private sector’s return on investment was 22:1.
“From an investment standpoint, it was a very good value,” Rutter told The Highlander, while acknowledging only 55 per cent of households were ultimately covered by the broadband expansion.
But the expansion helped enhance fibre security across the county, he added, and supported several not-for-profits with high speed Wi-Fi. It also established Wi-Fi hot spots at municipal offices.
“People can visit these sites to upload or download files. It’s not ideal, but they’re incremental steps forward,” said Rutter.
The proposal this time around strictly focuses on cellular broadband expansion, but exact costs for Haliburton County are unknown.
“Until we know if we get funding … as well as request for proposal submissions, there are no firm count contributions,” Severson told The Highlander.
Pine emphasized the importance of cellular broadband, and said the world is moving quickly towards 5G wireless connections.
“Fibre to the home doesn’t fix your internet issue elsewhere,” he said.
Severson agreed, and said upgrades to cellular broadband infrastructure are needed to prepare for future projects that take advantage of that capacity, like driverless vehicles.
“That technology is coming,” she said.
Moffatt said Algonquin Highlands can no longer be “the hole in the donut,” referring to gaps in cellular connections that exist in Algonquin Highlands and other parts of the county.
“People holding their breath for Rogers and Bell to hook us up are going to turn blue,” she said. “We have to adapt … it’s increasingly important in today’s world that people have the ability to connect with friends and family through wireless devices.”
EORN’s latest proposal also includes an option to combine the initial expansion with a secure network for first responders. The secured network would be used “in events and situations where emergency responders need to communicate with each other in a secure environment,” according to EORN’s presentation.
Combining the two projects would create more than $47 million in savings.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.