By Chad Ingram
Think of critical infrastructure and one may picture roads, bridges and culverts.
Think of essential services and ambulances and fire trucks may come to mind.
In 2016, the Internet also belongs on that list. Critical infrastructure. An essential service. A necessity. The argument could be made that a lack of reliable, high-speed Internet puts a community at a disadvantage, jeopardizing its ability to attract new residents and in turn, its economic development.
Haliburton County council is trying its best to bring broadband Internet into the community. There is a phrase about beggars and choosers and the reality is the municipal government doesn’t have a lot of options. Providers are not stumbling over themselves to set up shop in the county, with its vast expanse, small population and challenging topography.
A few years back, the county invested $500,000 in a $170-million project through the Eastern Ontario Regional Network that loftily aimed to provide high-speed to 95 per cent of homes and businesses throughout the eastern portion of the province.
The project fell short of expectations. There are still many county residents without access to reliable Internet, and not just those living among rock faces in far-flung corners of Algonquin Highlands.
Residents of Harburn Road, a fairly main artery just outside Haliburton village, are without good Internet, as are those living along County Road 1 between Haliburton village and Minden.
The satellite Internet that was supposed to fill the gaps in the project has delivered nowhere the near the capacity it was supposed to.
Some have suggested the county got ripped off on the EORN project and some have expressed hesitation about a new project, where the county is investing $360,000 for Bell, which will pony up much more money, to expand its fibre network in the community.
There has been lamentation that the new project, which will add or improve Internet access at 24 public buildings, increasing and improving the number of free, public, wireless hot spots, has no residential component.
Again, beggars can’t be choosers. The county must do the best it can with the proverbial cards it’s dealt. It must avail itself of the few opportunities it has.
While the process may seem slow, frustrating and piecemeal, as some councilors have pointed out, the more fibre that gets laid down, the more opportunities there are for residential projects by Bell or other companies in the future.
As Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin, using a very local analogy, put it last week, “To get the road to Percy Lake, you have to build it to Fort Irwin first.”
In the meantime, the federal government should be providing more financial assistance to rural communities for Internet infrastructure.
Ultimately, the Internet should be deemed an essential service. It should be free for all Canadians and it should be everywhere.