When it comes to fibre-optic infrastructure, Chatham-Kent is levelling up.
A total of four new projects — valued at $19.3-million — were announced by Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) last week.
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff called it “an amazing day” for the municipality, adding the announcement is the “culmination of years of work.”
“Council has listened and staff has been working behind the scenes with our partners to bring us here,” Canniff says, adding the Internet has become a necessary utility similar to hydro and water.
TekSavvy has been awarded three of the fibre-to-the-home projects in northeast Chatham-Kent valued at $9.2-million.
Set to begin this month, the extensive work will see cable installed along 99 kilometres of underserviced roadway bringing high-speed Internet to 1,782 homes and businesses.
Included are the communities of Mitchell’s Bay, Highgate, Tupperville, Dover Centre, Grand Pointe, Louisville, Kent Bridge, Muirkirk and Duart.
Rural areas outside Wallaceburg, Dresden, Bothwell and Pain Court will also be serviced.
A fourth project to be completed by Cogeco Connexion is set to begin in November. It will see the installation of 115 kilometres of fibre-optic cable throughout Erieau, Erie Beach, Dealtown, North Buxton, Charing Cross, Cedar Springs, Shrewsbury, Rondeau Bay Estates, Rondeau Park and Morpeth.
A total of 2,802 locations are included in the Cogeco project with service set to begin in 2023.
According to SWIFT executive director Barry Field, the agency will leverage $7.4-million in funding contributions from member municipalities, including a $3.6-million loan from Chatham-Kent, to be repaid over seven years.
But funding from all of SWIFT’s 20-member municipalities is being used for the local work.
Some financial juggling had to occur, Field says, as Chatham-Kent wasn’t eligible to receive money under the Small Communities Fund, because the population exceeded 100,000, but it they hadn’t been included it would have left a gaping hole in SWIFT’s $209-million plan
to bring broadband to approximately 50,000 underserved residents and businesses across the region.
Field says the loan from Chatham-Kent was made to address the shortfall.
And while the new projects make great strides towards bringing high-speed Internet to the municipality, Field says there are still pockets that will be left without coverage.
A host of politicians took part in the announcement, including Labour Minister Monte McNaugton, MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.
McNaughton says the projects will create “life-changing” benefits to families, farmers and small business.
“This will put all regions on an equal footing,” he adds.
A fifth already finished project at the Delaware Nation at Moravian-of-the-Thames was included in last week’s announcement as it was part of the funding package.
TekSavvy has completed the $700,000 project in 2020, which saw the installation of 13 kilometres of fibre-optic backbone and feeder network.
The new construction enables the First Nation to act as its own Internet service provider.
Delaware Nation Chief Denise Stonefish, a SWIFT board member, says the Internet project will provide untold educational opportunities for the band and its youth.
The non-profit Western Ontario Wardens Caucus is the founding body of the SWIFT agency.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald