EORN issues RFP for massive cell project
By Chad Ingram
The Eastern Ontario Regional Network is releasing the first request for proposals in its massive cell gap project that will connect areas of eastern Ontario with low or no connectivity with mobile broadband internet.
The $213-million project includes $71 million in funding from each of the federal and provincial governments, and $10 million in funding from the member municipalities of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which owns EORN, and which includes Haliburton County. The County of Haliburton will contribute up to $565,000 to the project, and the remaining $61 million is to be funded by mobile service providers. The project will entail the construction of new communications towers throughout the region, and it’s expected will take three to four years to complete.
“This is the first big step in extending connectivity to our region,” Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin, who sits on the EORN board, wrote in a social media post. “Will keep you posted when the RFPs come in and how and when it will improve service to our county. Thanks to all the municipalities and the county government in never wavering funding to make this next step a reality.”
Mike Rutter is the chief administrative officer for the County of Haliburton, and one of the project’s co-leads.
“As a CAO co-lead, I can’t put into words how excited I am that we have reached this important milestone,” Rutter said in an email to the Times. “Over the last few years I have been able to witness first-hand the incredible commitment and dedication of the EORN staff team and board. There were many times that the challenges seemed almost insurmountable, but they worked together to find creative solutions that kept the project moving forward. The last couple of months have accentuated the need for enhanced connectivity in the county and region as it is so critical to ensure continuity of business and the health and safety of our residents. This project will address the cellular connectivity challenges, but we also know our work in traditional broadband is not finished. There has been a great deal of analysis done already, and we look forward to working with all levels of government to implement solutions that provide internet speeds and reliability that meet the needs of our residents.”
Rutter thanked members of county council for their support of the project, particularly in lobbying for funding from the upper levels of government. It took a couple of years to get funding commitments from both the provincial and federal government.
“They have supported EORN and the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus in every way possible as this project was developed,” he wrote. “I know they were tireless advocates, and rarely had a conversation with our MPP and MP that did not include a question about the status of our funding request.”
Rutter said the RFP will be on the market for a period of four months, that the review of the submissions was expected to take about the same length time, and that is was hoped construction on the project could begin in early 2021.
According to a press release from EORN, 40 per cent of the area it serves does not have access to speeds fast enough to allow the streaming of HD video; 20 per cent does not have access to standard definition video, typical mobile app use or video app calling; and 10 per cent has no voice calling service at all.
“The gaps are the result of market failure,” the release reads. “Rural areas don’t generate enough revenue for mobile carriers to build adequate services. The CRTC recently designated both mobile and fixed broadband as basic services for all Canadians. The public-private partnership will reduce carriers’ infrastructure costs, creating a stronger business case to improve services and meet the CRTC’s basic services goals.”
“This project will take a number of years to complete, but that’s why we’re working with our federal and municipal partners today, to solicit proposals from service providers to improve cellular connectivity for those families and businesses in the future,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott said in the release.