Push on for 'ultra-broadband’ in southwestern Ontario

Monte Sonnenberg

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer


Norfolk County has joined a regional campaign to bring “ultra-broadband” connectivity to southwestern Ontario.

Norfolk took its first step in this direction this week when it committed $25,000 to a lobbying effort sponsored by the Western Ontario Wardens Caucus.

WOWC wants Ottawa and Queen’s Park to commit $78 million each to the creation of a $234 million fibre-optic trunk network serving 14 counties in southwest Ontario.

The trunk lines would extend high-capacity Internet into 310 communities. The baseline speed would be 100 megabits per second or more – enough to download and watch a movie in real time.

The wardens caucus identified the need for this infrastructure last year. The group fears southwest Ontario will be left in the dust if it doesn’t catch up to areas where high-speed connectivity is a priority. WOWC fears investment is already bypassing southwestern Ontario in favour of these jurisdictions.

“In the global marketplace, companies and entrepreneurs seek to locate their facilities and base of operations where they can gain the greatest advantage in terms of costs, skilled labour and access to markets,” says a WOWC background report. “Communities without high capacity broadband cannot even begin to compete and can not expect to flourish. Potential investors will just pass them by in favour of a better-connected community, region or country. Start-up businesses in rural areas are often forced to relocate to urban centres where broadband infrastructure exists that will scale as their businesses grow.”

Norfolk made its contribution during Day 2 of council’s 2014 budget deliberations on Wednesday. If the SWIFT (South West Integrated Fibre Technology) project goes forward, Norfolk’s contribution would be in the range of $1 million according to the WOWC report.

“To me, this seems a logical step in the economic development of southwestern Ontario,” said Port Rowan Councillor Betty Chanyi. “That would mean a great deal to our municipality. I see this as being the best bang for our buck.”

Fibre optic cable costs about $25,000 per kilometre to install. This compares with $500,000 per kilometre of paved road. WOWA sees the SWIFT initiative making high-speed broadband available in rural areas with population densities as low as four people per square kilometre.

Other highlights from council’s 2014 budget deliberations this week include:

• Norfolk County’s IT department supports 650 computers across the municipality. Computers are normally replaced every five years. The province requires Windows7 or better as a municipal computer’s base operating system.

• Norfolk’s forestry division hoped to spend $13,500 this year on a gypsy moth survey in county woodlots. Council struck it from the budget after Windham Coun. Jim Oliver said gypsy moth caterpillars have not been an issue in his woodlot over the past two years. Oliver said it will likely remain that way in 2014 given the severity of the winter weather thus far.

“This may be premature,” Oliver said. “I’m not aware that the population is growing.”

• Council asked staff to prepare a comprehensive report on Norfolk’s forest holdings, how much revenue the county derives from them each year, how many staff members are required to manage them, and what sort of tax revenue they would generate if sold to private interests.

• Kevin Lichach, Norfolk’s general manager of community services, said his department is having a hard time contracting out concession booths at area arenas and ball parks. Lichach said past contractors had a hard time making a profit. There is also customer dissatisfaction with concession services that are believed to open too late or close too early for the public’s liking. Council heard that many arena visitors bring their own coffee to games and other events.

Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3528 ext. 150


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