Feds commit to EORN project
By Chad Ingram
A long-awaited announcement that the federal government will contribute funding to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project took place last week, meaning all the funding is in place, and the project can proceed.
It will provide mobile, broadband internet to areas of eastern Ontario that currently have no or poor service. This includes swaths of Haliburton County. A federal contribution of $71 million will match the $71 million that was included in this spring’s provincial budget. With a total project cost of $213 million, $10 million will come from the municipalities that comprise the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (of which Haliburton County is one), and the remaining $61 million from the mobile service provider companies.
County Warden Liz Danielsen, along with other regional leaders, was in Bancroft for the funding announcement from MP Mike Bossio on July 4.
“This project has been a long time in the making, and we have literally been waiting for funding to come through from both upper levels of government for almost two years,” Danielsen said in an email to the Echo.
“To have the federal government’s commitment of $71 million is the final piece in place for the project to proceed that will be a terrific boon not only for Haliburton County but for all of eastern Ontario. The hard work that has been done over the years by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, the Eastern Ontario Regional Network board and their extraordinary staff is what has driven this project and will go a long way to improve not only safety for drivers on the road and emergency services, but offer many digital economic opportunities over the next few years. Rest assured that despite the success of this project, both the EOWC and EORN will continue to pursue additional opportunities to further improve connectivity across eastern Ontario, and more particularly for the residents and visitors of Haliburton County.”
The County of Haliburton will contribute up to $565,000 to the project.
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale said the project will enhance economic development opportunities in the riding, as well as increase community safety.
“Residents and businesses in eastern Ontario would benefit from improved access to online services which allow people to connect with friends, family, business, and community organizations,” Schmale said in a press release. “Most importantly, this proposal will save lives by ensuring cellular access to emergency services in remote areas and improving public safety by connecting all first responders on a dedicated network.”
While he’s glad to see the funding, Schmale also had criticism for the Trudeau government in taking so long to confirm it, noting the announcement was made just months before the fall’s federal election.
“I have been talking about the need to fill the gaps in internet and cellular coverage since being first elected in 2015 as people and businesses in rural communities struggle with reduced access to vital connectivity,” Schmale said. “While today’s announcement is a positive step forward, it also is met with frustration, as the government has had the EORN project application on their desk for over two years with little-to-no movement.”
The project is to include the construction of 317 new telecommunications towers, as well as 32 local internet access points, throughout eastern Ontario. It will also identify gap areas, areas of heavier use, and upgrade equipment to reduce network overloads.
According to EORN, which is owned by the wardens’ caucus, 40 per cent of the area currently does not have enough capacity to access high-definition services that allow for streaming HD video; 20 per cent of the area does not have enough capacity for standard definition video, typical mobile app use and video app calling; and 10 per cent of the area has no voice call service.
The project’s goal is to virtually eliminate cell gaps, providing service to 99 per cent of the areas where it is currently non-existent or poor. This includes all areas where people live or work, but not in uninhabited areas such as forests or swamps.
According to EORN, the increased connectivity is expected to create more than 3,000 jobs and generate more than $420 million in private business revenue during the next decade. It is hoped that construction on the project will begin in spring of 2020, and it is expected to take three to four years to complete.