The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) has issued its first request for proposals to build new cellular infrastructure as part of a massive $213 million project.

The bidding process will aim to identify partners who can expand cellular coverage throughout eastern Ontario as part of a wider effort to improve mobile broadband. The initiative involves all three levels of government.

“Now more than ever, our government understands that families and businesses in Ontario need to be connected to prosper in this 21st-century digital economy,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott said in a press release, adding the project will take a number of years to complete.

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin serves on the EORN board. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet caused a substantial delay in the process. He further said getting proposals back from service providers would normally take about three months.

“Given the current status, I’m not sure whether that drags out. Most people are involved in technology and connectivity. We all work from a distance anyway, so that may not be such a big deal as it is for some organizations,” Devolin said.

COVID-19 shows need for connectivity

The pandemic has increased people’s reliance on cellular and internet services, with many now working remotely.

County library CEO Bessie Sullivan said the library internet hotspots are seeing use, accessed frequently from parked cars. The County has 22 hotspots in total, seven at libraries.

“It clearly points out that we are not where we need to be in terms of the digital divide,” Sullivan said. “When we have a situation like this, it just points out where our gaps are. The fact that there are options is a good thing, but I think it really does say that we really need to have a better internet infrastructure.”

Jacques Larroude is a Blairhampton area resident. As a manager for the CARE International Rapid Response Team, part of the major international humanitarian organization, he works remotely and needs reliable internet for his job. He said it has been steady during the pandemic, but he has experienced unworkable slowdowns in the past. Due to his location, he also only has access to one provider, with an alternative unwilling to extend its coverage an additional 700 metres to accommodate him for cost reasons.

Larroude further said as one of the poorest counties in Ontario, Haliburton should have some priority for new infrastructure.

“If anything happens to the particular service – I only have one choice, one option – I’m basically out of a job. That is a concern,” he said.

However, Devolin said the COVID19 situation has further emphasized how vital connectivity is and hopes that could expedite future projects.

“Accelerated connectivity will benefit us all. I’ve always believed this could never happen fast enough and in light of COVID-19, I’m more firm in my views,” Devolin said. “This needs to be perceived as kind of a basic Canadian right. That we should all have access to reasonable connectivity from coast to coast.”

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