Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio brought some good news and some continued uncertainty to County council last week on the subject of Internet connectivity.
Visiting council’s working session meeting Wednesday to introduce himself to new councillors, Bossio spoke about how his government was helping rural Canadians through wealth redistribution efforts, infrastructure and business development funding, and a new rural economic development ministry.
Connectivity seemed to dominate the discussion, however.
Bossio championed the federal government’s $500-million investment into rural high-speed broadband under the Connect To Innovate (CTI) program last year.
“It was a half-a-billion dollars. It’s not enough. We know there are huge needs in the area of broadband Internet. It’s the largest investment ever made in this area. What it did was it raised awareness on the need,” Bossio said. “The intake that happened on the CTI was over $4-billion for that $500 million. We didn’t know the need was that large. We’re hopeful it’s going to lead to more funding.”
Locally, there was a $36-million public-private partnership announced with Xplornet Communications. The government invested $10.8 million and the provider the balance. Bossio said the project would connect more antennas to fibre optic cable allowing greater capacity and speeds.
“It means 100 mbps download and 15-30 mbps upload for the vast majority of people in the southern part of the riding,” Bossio said.
Since that announcement in July, Bossio said Xplornet has agreed to invest additional millions to spread its project further across the southern part of the county.
“The network has expanded and it’s going to benefit Lennox and Addington. It’s going to go all the way down County Rd. 4 to County Rd. 33. It was going to go down County Rd. 8 to Sandhurst Shores, but by connecting County Rd. 8 to County Rd. 4, Loyalist Township and Stone Mills Township will have far greater service than they had originally. Originally, it was going to go form Newburgh to Erinsville in that kind of corridor. Now, it’s going to go to Centreville, Enterprise, Yarker, Camden East, Bath, Millhaven, and the communities along Hwy 33. They’re going to explore towers from Hwy 33 to Amherst Island. There’s going to be one hope from one tower to the next, then be directly connected to fibre.”
Bossio said Greater Napanee was always going to be well served by the project.
Following the presentation, Stone Mills councillor John Wise asked Bossio how the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s $213-million cellular proposal — of which the federal and provincial governments are both being asked to pay $71 million and Lennox and Addington up to $567,517 — fits in the strategy.
Bossio said that while technologies are starting to converge, there is no dedicated funding available to upgrade cellular coverage.
He said he’s been working with Infrastructure Canada to find money and he plans to make it a priority to talk to rural economic development minister Bernadette Jordan about it. He also said the province needs to identify the project as its priority to Infrastructure Canada.
When Wise pressed, Bossio reminded him it’s still a consideration, but it might not happen right away.
“When you look at the original EORN project, that took five or six years to happen. That’s not something that happens overnight. $71 million is a big chunk of change.”
Bossio also reminded councillors that first EORN project that brought higher speeds to 95 per cent of homes and businesses in the region already put eastern Ontario in a comparable position of strength.
“That first program made a big difference and basically it’s brought us to where we are today. We do have, relatively speaking compared to other rural communities, good broadband coverage where most communities don’t have any outside of eastern Ontario,” he said. “It’s made us the envy of the country in the southern part of this riding because we’ll have urban-like connectivity in a rural area.”