The Village of Sundridge is on the verge of accomplishing what Mayor Lyle Hall says would be unheard of in the Almaguin Highlands.
The village plans to pursue an agreement with Lakeland Networks to install high-speed internet to parts of the community that earlier in time were not approved under the Universal Broadband Funding program.
It means, with the exception of seven buildings in the village, every home and business will have access to faster internet service by the end of the expansion.
The number of homes the expansion would involve is 138. Hall says that would leave only seven off the expansion list.
He says six of those homes are on one street and the seventh is on another road.
Hall adds it's not a promise, but in discussions he has had with Lakeland Networks, the company could decide to add six of the outstanding homes once it begins the expansion work next year.
The total cost of the project is $400,000, of which the Village of Sundridge would cover $150,000.
However, Hall says the municipal share could drop depending on how many of the 138 homes decide to sign on.
He says under the proposed agreement, if 58 customers buy into the high-speed service, the village would get a rebate of $1,500 to $2,000 per household beginning with the 59th customer.
The rebate is a one-time return on the village's investment of $150,000.
“It's a heck of a deal,” Hall said, adding the way the proposed agreement is structured is something the village “would never have been able to afford.”
Coun. Steve Hicks said the proposal “sounds great,” but he also cautioned council against getting its hopes up that it would be on the receiving end of thousands of dollars in rebates. Hicks says there have been Sundridge residents who for decades have accepted poor service and “learned (how) to get by with substandard internet.”
Once the expansion is complete, it will cost households about $100 a month each for the service, a dollar amount which Hicks says “is inconceivable to a number of people.”
If only a handful of customers buy into the service, it would mean no rebates to the municipality or only a few thousands dollars.
Hicks says despite this scenario, the village will have done its job and taken the necessary steps to ensure that, except for seven households, every building in the community “has access to high-speed internet.”
While some homeowners may balk at the monthly internet fee, Hall says new residents moving to the community, who are already used to high-speed internet, will have an expectation that the service is readily available.
Council did discuss the one possibility that could block its participation in the expansion.
Lakeland Networks is the retail division of Lakeland Energy, which in turn is a subsidiary of Lakeland Holding Ltd.
Lakeland Holding is entirely owned by the municipalities of Bracebridge, Huntsville, Parry Sound, Burk's Falls, Magnetawan and Sundridge.
Hall says because Lakeland stands to make money through the project, which then increases the asset value of the company, the municipality wants to ensure it isn't creating a conflict of interest for itself by financially contributing to a project, of which it is part owner of the company that would have a direct financial benefit.
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