Earlier this month, the Federal and Provincial governments announced more plans to improve internet connectivity within northern and rural communities.
Overall, a $1.2 billion dollar fund is dedicated to the purpose, with $170 million of this ear-marked for northeastern Ontario.
This funding will provide “39,000 connections” within northeastern Ontario, Nipissing’s MPP Vic Fedeli said during that August 6 announcement. “We’re getting 8,556 of them right here in the riding of Nipissing.”
Some of these new connections will occur in East Ferris, and Michael Blair and Philip Koning are keeping a close eye on how these roll out.
Blair and Koning founded the East Ferris Internet Advocacy Group (EFIAG), and with help from their community, have done much to petition the government for access to better internet.
Although homes along Corbeil and Astorville roads and some other places “where they have access to fixed internet” receive “decent” service, Blair and Koning want to ensure the community is properly set up to keep up with future internet improvements.
Preparing for future changes at this time means creating an infrastructure network based on fiber optic connections, the group attests.
The new funding, and the Federal promise to connect all rural and underserved regions by 2025, give EFIAG hope that now is the time to implement these changes, to strike while the money flows.
“We’re trying to promote the idea of getting the best technology possible now,” Blair said, “because if we don’t the funding won’t be there in another five years, and we’ll be left behind again.”
“If you don’t get fiber, you’re always going to be behind,” as technology changes, and Blair wants to ensure East Ferris residents are put on the forefront and remain there.
Bell will be upgrading the area’s internet, as per the August 6 announcement, which suits EFIAG fine, although “we’ve never seen that plan” put forward by Bell, so they are not sure how much fiber will play into the strategy.
More wireless towers could be built, but Phil worries that with the topography of the area, more towers may only boost internet speeds “as long as you cut down all the trees around your house.”
While waiting to see Bell’s plan for the area, the two acknowledge other difficulties in securing an upgraded internet in East Ferris.
They mentioned how NetSpectrum had “rolled out their plan” for installing fiber optics in certain parts of the region, although the company made clear “they are not going to use Ontario Hydro poles,” Koning said, adding that “Ontario Hydro has the highest connection charges in North America for allowing third parties to access their poles.”
A similar issue pertains to towers, as each tower is owned by different companies, and Koning suggested this is a systemic problem that discourages more collaborative solutions to augmenting internet services.
“It’s as if when they were building the highways they told Ford, Chrysler, and GM to build their own highways,” and each manufacturer had to keep to their own roads, Koning quipped. “That’s what they’re doing to the telecom system in Canada.”
The pandemic has placed a high value on internet connectivity. With people working from home, students learning from screens, and the internet providing vital access to many of life’s needs and wants, the EFIAG realizes that now is the time to continue pushing for improved access.
“Will the fiber backbone be put in to leave room for potential expansion in the future?” Blair asks. “That’s the big question for us,” and the group remains vigilant until those answers arrive.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca