The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands is moving ahead with pursuing its own solution to broadband connectivity outside of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network's (EORN) initiatives.
At the last council meeting on Sept. 23, council approved launching a competitive procurement process for consulting services to develop a business plan for delivering broadband in the township.
"Although the township supports EORN, it recognizes that the EORN model is not ideal for the township's particular challenges," said Stephen Donachey, the township's chief executive officer.
EORN's model, Donachey explained, is for wireless internet, which doesn't work with Leeds and the Thousand Islands' geography – the rolling hills, large pockets of granite and tall pine trees coupled with a sparse population are particularly challenging.
It's also a question of timing. One thing the pandemic has done is highlight the need for reliable connectivity now.
"EORN covers a very large geographical area and it's my understanding that EORN has a model for prioritizing areas for deployment of services. The township decided to continue working on its broadband initiative with the goal of deploying broadband throughout the township as quickly as possible," said Donachey, adding that EORN and the township are mutually supportive of each other's broadband initiative.
Earlier this year the township set up a broadband working group which worked closely with a consultant to complete a broadband study.
The conclusion was that the township would be better served with a fibre optic network than a wireless network. As a result, the study group, the consultant and staff are recommending that the township look for a partnership arrangement with an outside party to create plans and design a made-in-Leeds-and-Thousand-Islands network.
"The study also concludes that the average cost of implementing a network in the township is going to be more than the industry standard and doesn't fit the profitability models for institutional internet service providers," said Marnie Venditti, township planner.
In anticipation of the costs, the township has already applied for funding through the Improving Connectivity for Ontario (ICON) program. If the application is successful and moves to the second stage of the grant review, the township will need solid financial information.
So the next step, according to Venditti, is to create a business plan that looks at corporate structure models, anticipated maintenance and operating costs and break-even points.
"One of the requirements will be gauging anticipated subscription uptake by residents and businesses. Anecdotally, we have been contacted by a number of residents and businesses who are eagerly waiting to subscribe to broadband services," said Donachey.
This project is expected to cost up to $25,000. Since it is not included in the 2020 operating budget, staff is recommending funding it out of the modernization reserve fund.
"The business plan will also be an important document to assist in the procurement process of selecting a future partner to work with the township to operate and maintain the network," saod Venditti.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative, Brockville Recorder and Times