Picking up a signal
By Chad Ingram
Early this month, there was a long-awaited announcement that the federal government will contribute funding to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project, meaning all the funding is now in place, and the project can proceed.
Its success is crucial for the future economic development of Haliburton County.
To recap, the $213-million project is meant to connect virtually all areas within eastern Ontario that currently have no or poor mobile broadband connectivity with reliable service.
The Wynne government committed, and the Ford government delivered in this spring’s budget, $71 million of that funding. Ten million dollars will come from the municipalities that comprise the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (which owns EORN), and Haliburton County has committed to providing up to $565,000 of that funding. The telecommunications companies themselves will provide $61 million, and until earlier this month, it had just been a matter of waiting for the Trudeau government to commit matching the $71 million in funding from the province. So, now, we’re good to go.
A project of such vast scale will of course take a few years to complete. It is anticipated that construction will start in spring of 2020, and that the project will take three to four years to finish. It will entail the construction of some 313 telecommunications towers throughout eastern Ontario, the introduction of 32 new local internet access points, and upgrading of equipment to reduce network overloads.
Some readers will recall, or may be reminded daily with their own poor internet service, that an initial internet expansion project by EORN fell short of its goal. That project took place between 2010 and 2015 and included the installation of fibre-optic cable throughout the region. While the target had been to connect 95 per cent of homes and businesses, that figure ended up being about 86 per cent, and in the county, about 45 per cent of residences were left without fibre access, due in part to its topography.
The coverage target for the new project, which is to eliminate virtually all gaps, should presumably be easier to achieve, since it relies on cellular technology. Yes, it will mean new towers being erected, which will mean a few more blinking red lights against the nighttime horizon, but that seems like a small price to pay for not being left behind.
The internet is of course no longer the way of the future, it is the way of the present. From communication to commerce to entertainment, it is central to contemporary life. Haliburton County’s economy was built on 19th-century logging, an industry that peaked locally long ago, supplanted largely by service and retail jobs related to the community’s tourism- and cottaging-dependent economy. Economic development remains a huge challenge in the county, where many jobs continue to be precarious, part-time and low-paying.
If the county can become fully and reliably connected to the internet, it opens up multitudinous possibilities for start-ups and online businesses in the creative economy and other sectors that could provide stable, decent-paying jobs for local people. It will also allow Haliburtonian entrepreneurs, who in the past would have had to leave the community, to build their own businesses at home.
The county needs this project to succeed.