The County of Haliburton is supporting two proposals that could provide thousands of people with better internet.

Council held a special meeting Aug. 18 and directed staff to prepare letters of support for each of Bell and Xplornet for them to apply to the first intake of the provincial Improving Connectivity for Ontario program (ICON).

Each of the internet service providers (ISPs) is proposing to build more fibre connectivity in the County with help from a $150 million grant funding pool.

“This is awesome,” Coun. Cec Ryall said. “This is a move forward and something we desperately need.”

The Bell proposal is for $20 million to build a combination of fibre-to-home and fixed wireless at 50 megabyte-per-second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload speeds. They would service approximately 4,000 homes in the County.

The Xplornet project is part of a larger, $200-$220 million proposal to build 2,650 kilometres of fibre across central and northern Ontario. It would bring 100 Mbps service to 5,400 underserved premises within the County. There is no limit on how many applications a municipality can make for the grant, so staff recommended supporting both.

“Both of these have a very significant benefit in Haliburton County,” CAO Mike Rutter said. “We have between 18,00020,000 households, so there’s still lots of work to do, but they are significant.”

Jonathan Black from Kuro Partners, an Ottawabased consulting firm hired to help the County with this process, added the proposals would not cover all of the County.

“This is not ubiquitous coverage,” Black said. “Both proposals are covering a lot of territory, but they are not covering the whole of the area.”

Rutter said four ISPs are interested in working to develop cases for the second intake of ICON. Council also voted to retain Black’s services for that process.

Rutter also said there is a need for data to better identify precisely where the coverage gaps in the County are. He said Black could help source and implement software for that purpose, with a report to come later.

“We think that information would really help County council identify where your money would make the biggest impact,” Rutter said.

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