Leeds and the Thousand Islands cancels Internet plan

·3 min read

Leeds and the Thousand Islands cancels Internet plan

The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands has pulled the plug on its high-speed internet plan, blaming changes in federal and provincial government grant programs.

At a special council meeting this week, council members cancelled the request for proposals seeking companies to partner with the township in its internet plan.

In a statement following the meeting, council blamed changes in government broadband programs for its decision.

For years, the township has been working on a plan to bring high-speed internet to residents and businesses via a fibre-optic network throughout the mainland of the township, it said.

In its statement, the township said its plan was based on it obtaining money from the federal Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) and the province’s Improving Connectivity for Ontario (ICON) program. The township said it had been approved at the initial phase of the ICON program and was proceeding to the second phase for funding consideration.

In the meantime, however, the governments scrapped their two programs. The UBF was disbanded and its funds were transferred to the provinces, the township said.

In Ontario, the government decided to direct the money to private internet companies, which could apply for subsidies to provide high-speed to unserved or poorly serviced parts of the province.

The township said the changes mean it is no longer eligible for the grants.

“Under the new provincial funding program, the township is not eligible to apply for grants, it said. “Without public funding, the township cannot proceed with the broadband project.”

Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke called the governments’ decision “disappointing.”

She said the township embarked on its project to wire as many homes with fibre optic cables throughout the municipality, predicated on the two existing programs by the federal and provincial governments.

“Those two programs have been discontinued,” she said.

The mayor said the province has been extremely vague about how its new program “will service our municipality other than it will cover pockets by potentially different bidders.”

As the township understands it, the new provincial program will have companies bidding on areas with a high density of residents and that the rural areas will be less of a priority, she said.

Eastern Ontario and the municipality have a low rate of connectivity, with few pockets having a high speed broadband networks but most of the region is still having to rely on satellite internet.

With the granite, trees and lakes, it makes it harder for wireless services, like towers, in the area to be used, “so that’s why we were emphatic that we would have fibre optic service, because it’s the most reliable and almost guaranteed to be the fastest,” said Smith-Gatcke.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for residents and businesses to have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet to work from home and continue education, said Smith-Gatcke.

“All of those things that became so imperative during the pandemic, our municipality will struggle,” she said.

During the meeting, council directed Smith-Gatcke to write to Premier Doug Ford and provincial infrastructure minister Kinga Surma to express the township’s concerns about the change of funding and to ask the province to reconsider the decision, as well as ask for clarity.

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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