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Spend money now on high-speed internet, eastern Ontario group urges.

With files from

EORN asking for $400M investment to boost rural internet outside Ottawa

A group of eastern Ontario elected officials want the provincial and federal governments to allocate $200 million each for the Gig Project, which would guarantee internet speeds of one gigabyte per second to 95 per cent of homes and businesses in eastern Ontario.

In an effort to get stronger internet in rural eastern Ontario, a group of nearly 60 elected officials in the region are calling on the federal and provincial governments to speed up their financial commitments.

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) is calling for a $400 million investment — half from the province, half from the federal government — for its Gig Project, which would provide download speeds of one gigabyte, or 1,000 MBps (megabytes per second), to 95 per cent of eastern Ontario.

Having those speeds would be "a game changer" for the region, said Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux.

"Ten,15 years ago, internet might not have been an essential service," Leroux said. "But now, today, it's as essential as hydro or gas."

Both governments have already promised a combined $7 billion for the expansion of high-speed internet, with the federal government aiming to connect 98 per cent of Canadians by 2026 and Ontario pledging to spend $2.8 billion by 2025.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has highlighted the urban-rural internet divide, as people across the country have been working and attending school virtually.

"If you have two, three kids, then they're all on live video, each individually," said Leroux. "Add in the parents working from home. Add the fact that, you know, a lot of health care now is done virtually ... the capacity is not there."

Minimum standards not being met

The $400-million request from EORN represents just under six per cent of that total, and would go to a region it says represents 30 per cent of Ontario's underserved population.

The rest of the estimated $1.5 billion Gig Project is expected to be funded by the private sector.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), meanwhile, has set a minimum 50 MBps target for downloads and 10 MBps for uploads, which it expects 90 per cent of Canadians to have by the end of the year.

EORN says those numbers are far from reality for much of rural eastern Ontario, particularly for those who only have access to regular broadband internet, not fibre optic internet.

"Some of our residents aren't even getting the minimum standards," Leroux said.

"They're at more like 10 [megabytes per second] if they're lucky."

Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux says some of his residents have one-fifth the minimum internet speed called for by the CRTC.(Olivia Chandler/CBC)

In Carlsbad Springs Rogers Cable applied to the ISED UBF program on January 15, 2021 to expand their current cable system and offer their high speed Internet and digital television service to 166 homes additional homes in Carlsbad, homes on Boundary Road north, Sabourin Rd, Carlsbad Lane, Russell Road at Halls and up to Leitrim Rd, Foubert Ct and also Thunder Rd (between Boundary and Halls Road). Rogers has recently indicated that they are awaiting news from ISED soon and confident about their application. If Rogers obtains funding their high speed service has to be installed and operational by November 15, 2021. This service will be offered via fiber optic to the home via a new installation that will offer speeds of of up to 1GB / sec. unlimited internet.

'A hindrance'

It's not just those working from home who are suffering the consequences of slower speeds, however. Mark Kelly is CEO of KB Media in Casselman, Ont., and said his business needs speeds of 200 MBps at minimum, a tenfold increase over what it currently has access to.

That's what's needed for his company to properly compete, he said, especially as employees work from home.

At minimum, he said his business needs 200 MBps — a 10-fold increase of what it currently receives — to properly compete in the industry, especially as employees work from home. "The draw on our internet with 20 [megabytes per second] isn't enough to really support bringing files back and forth into our office," he said. "It becomes a hindrance for people."

Another option for rural residents in eastern Ontario and rural Ottawa is the Starlink service. Starlink currently offers high speed internet to a limited amount of clients in a beta version. We were told that the service to everyone will be available by this summer and in some places later in 2021. According to current users Starlink offers speeds of 50MB to 150MB with an average latency of 30ms. Starlink is a satellite internet constellation being constructed by SpaceX providing satellite Internet access. The constellation consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which communicate with designated ground transceivers. The SpaceX satellite development facility in Redmond, Washington houses the Starlink research, development, manufacturing, and orbit control teams. The cost of the decade-long project to design, build, and deploy the constellation was estimated by SpaceX in May 2018 to be at least US$10 billion. Starlink is own by Elon Musk via Space X, the car manufacturer of Tesla.

In Edwards, a small local company, Pipernet Communications offers high speed Internet with service of 50MB via a point to point WIFI system. The service is available for a limited amount of clients on Mitch Owens Rd between 8th Line and 9th Line Rd.

For more information on Starlink please visit: Starlink website.

With files from Radio-Canada's Nafi Alibert.

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