The County of Haliburton is moving ahead with a grant application for a project that could significantly improve internet connectivity.

Council voted July 22 to have staff pursue a partnership with a local telecommunications service provider (TSP) to apply for the provincial Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) program. The $150 million fund offers municipalities a chance to build broadband infrastructure.

The County will pursue the grant with a consultant, utilizing $100,000 remaining in the 2020 budget earmarked for enhanced connectivity. Due to the August 21 deadline for the first intake, the municipality will sole source.

“Everybody with COVID has become extremely aware of connectivity needs,” Coun. Brent Devolin said, adding there will be a rush for consultants to take on work such as this. “The longer we wait, the shallower pond we’re going to be fishing in.”

The initiative would be separate from the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) and its ongoing $213 million cell-gap project, which the County contributes to. CAO Mike Rutter said EORN’s resources are occupied with that development, meaning the County would need to be self-reliant.

Although the exact parameters of the project are to be determined, Rutter highlighted an estimated $55 million needed to bring the CRTC standard of 50 megabytes-per-second download and 10 megabytes-per-second upload to 95 per
cent of the County. With an ICON grant, the provincial and federal governments would pay half, while the County and a private partner would have to cover the rest. Rutter said they have already been approached by two TSPs to apply.

“No idea at this point how broad those proposals will be or how broad the benefit would be,” Rutter said. “We are operating under the assumption any broadband is good broadband.”

He added the County would want any proposal to benefit all four of its townships.

Rutter said such a project could require debt financing. He noted it is a risk after the County approved debt to reduce the road infrastructure gap in 2019 and might need to go into debt to address affordable housing and unforeseen issues in coming months.

But he also said improved connectivity is important for post-pandemic recovery.

“Let’s get going, doing something for the folks out there that need it,” Coun. Carol Moffatt said.

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