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Simcoe County lands $28 million for improving internet services

July 23, 2020   ·   0 Comments

There are many benefits associated with living in a rural environment, but high-speed internet isn’t one of them.

Fortunately, help is on the way for under serviced communities across Simcoe County, which could include New Tecumseth.

A $28 million Request for Proposal (RFP) was recently put forward by Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT), which is a non-profit broadband project launched by the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus to subsidize the construction of high-speed broadband networks across Southwestern Ontario.

“I look forward to seeing what kind of results we get from the RFP, so far, for the most part, they have been excellent,” said SWIFT Board Chair and Southwest Oxford Mayor David Mayberry.

“We’ve been very pleased with the interest from providers and their dedication to trying to do as much as they can…with as few dollars as possible and that’s what we need – the best possible service at the most reasonable price.”

SWIFT is subsidizing up to 66 per cent of projects put forward by internet providers, specifically in areas where connectivity is poor and not financially viable, without extra funding.

The RFP in Simcoe County is part of a larger project aimed at providing fibre-optic internet to every home and business in Southwestern Ontario, totalling over $2.5 billion.

“We’ve been releasing RFPs based on various amounts that take into account the need and population – all of that on a formula basis to encourage independent providers to put their best foot forward,” noted Mayberry.

The proposals will be reviewed by SWIFT in September and by early October they’ll announce where the internet providers have determined they can provide better service. Construction for those projects are expected to start in a year or two, according to Mayberry.

He said the first service areas will likely be “low-hanging fruit,” where fibre is most needed, which should cover about 25 per cent of Simcoe County.

“That’s our big first step, but we recognize that there will be further steps as we go along,” he noted.

Going forward, SWIFT hopes to acquire funding for coverage of an even greater area, as certain places with poor connectivity will be too expensive to cover under the current subsidy.

The project has been in the works for a few years now, but in the era of COVID-19, the need for stronger internet in rural areas is clear.

“It’s one of those things where we wish it could be done tomorrow and we fully understand the angst that people are feeling, especially if they’ve got a family and they’re trying to do school work at home…or run a business,” Mayberry said. “We understand that angst and we want to address it.”

It is currently up to individual internet providers to look at the communities they serve and see where they can expand their service, through SWIFT’s subsidy.

“They’ll be looking at the areas with lower density…where there’s no potential return on investment without some form of subsidy,” Mayberry explained.

“We’re also looking to any place where a provider can make a good business case.”

SWIFT has already approved a handful of projects in Norfolk, Wellington and Lambton.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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