The drive to outfit Burk's Falls and Sundridge with fibre optics is on schedule, according to Dave Keith, the director of business development and operations at Lakeland Networks.
Keith says crews have been "rolling down fibre" in both communities for the past few weeks and "intend to finish that by late December or early January.
"We are very much on target to meet this deadline," he says.
Keith says it's been a long process to extend high-speed internet to Burk's Falls and Sundridge adding, in this instance, the work to meet things like municipal and transport requirements took about a year.
Keith says the decision included rolling out fibre in both towns on a street-by-street basis at the same time.
When complete, the internet speed will be at the very least nine-times faster than traditional DSL service, but will approach numbers well beyond that speed.
Lakeland has been installing fibre optics both in the air and underground depending on existing infrastructure.
"But mostly where there are hydro poles and we can get on poles (for) Burk's Falls and Sundridge it will be aerial," Keith says.
Keith doesn't have a figure for how many miles of fibre Lakeland is laying, but says the project will connect about 1,000 homes and businesses in the two communities.
Keith says he can't say what the endeavour is costing Lakeland.
There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact "we're doing it on our own dime.”
In other words, there is no government funding for the expansion.
However, Keith adds other factors, including COVID-19, have also figured into the final cost.
He says normally Lakeland has a traditional set of suppliers, but the virus has changed the playing field "and there could now be a premium price for some things.”
Lakeland chose to add fibre optics to Burk's Falls and Sundridge because, as an organization, it needs to continue growing, Keith says.
It began that expansion years ago along the Highway 11 corridor by introducing high-speed internet to Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville and some parts of Parry Sound.
But Keith says the company has to be strategic about where it introduces fibre optics and it's a major reason why in Burk's Falls Lakeland won't be rolling out high-speed internet beyond Highway 520.
Although Hydro One owns the poles in this area, Keith says Lakeland can negotiate with Hydro One about using its infrastructure.
However, he emphasizes ownership is not the hurdle.
Rather it comes down to not enough potential customers living in the area.
Keith says people will tell Lakeland they only live half a kilometre from the present cutoff point.
"But (installing fibre optics) costs us $50,000 to $75,000 for every kilometre,” he explains.
"So even though someone will say they're only half a kilometre up the road, that could result in a $35,000 cost. And then if you go for 10 kilometres up the road, which doesn't seem much to the average person, that's an expense of $750,000 for a small number of customers."
If, at some point in the future, the government can lend a hand to extend the current service, then Lakeland will expand into the less populated regions, Keith says.
When operational, fibre optics will make life easier for homeowners and businesses, Keith promises.
He says the packages the company will offer will be reasonably priced for the quality the consumer receives.
But Keith is also realistic.
Right now, many customers have a DSL service that provides 6 megs of connection and Keith says, depending on demographics, "there could be some people happy with that connection.
"It may do everything they need and they'll probably never look at our service, meaning they won't spend the extra $40 a month."
But that clientele is expected to represent the minority.
As for what high-speed internet service means for education, Jay Aspin, chairman of the Near North District School Board, says it's a highly welcomed and anticipated service.
"We're getting more into distance and virtual education and that's dependent on telecommunications infrastructure," Aspin explains.
"This will make it easier to have virtual courses and distance education."
Aspin also says it may also eliminate class time lost to snow days because the high-speed internet should make it possible for students to "attend" class from their homes.
Having online classes is something the education system has learned from the pandemic, Aspin says.
"We've seen there are more efficient and safer ways to distribute education," he says.
But Aspin says it's not only the students who will benefit.
"In our school board, we have people who come in from Parry Sound and Sundridge," he says. "So, for example, if we have bad weather we can hold a virtual meeting at the drop of a hat."
Over the years the board has received complaints from parents in low-density areas over the lack of high-speed internet, Aspin says.
He's optimistic those complaints will be a thing of the past once Lakeland completes its fibre-optics rollout and the majority of people hook up to high-speed internet.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget