EORN looking to fund one gig Internet service in rural areas

EASTERN ONTARIO – Calling it a long-term solution for rural connectivity, the Rural Ontario Regional Network (EORN) is searching government funding for a project that bring one-gig Internet service to its region.

“EORN is seeking federal and provincial support to deliver ultra-fast, Gig Internet to homes and businesses in the region through a $1.6 billion public-private partnership,” the organization released in a statement Tuesday (Aug. 11). “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the crisis in rural Internet access. It has impacted businesses, student learning, healthcare and government services. The EORN Gig Project aims to fix the issue with a comprehensive solution that ensures the region recovers from the pandemic, supports economic growth and helps build vibrant communities for the long term.”

“This would be a game-changer for eastern Ontario to attract and retain businesses and residents, and to compete globally over the long term,” Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus chair Andy Letham said.

An Internet speed of one gigabit per second (1 Gbps or 1,000 Mbps) would provide seamless, reliable connectivity to support and meet growing demand over the long run. It also supports real-time data sharing needed for smart technologies.

“Demand for broadband is growing exponentially,” EORN chair J. Murray Jones said. “Half-measures and baby steps won’t get us there. We need a long-term solution. The EORN Gig Project is a lasting investment in our prosperity.”

EORN would seek pay for the project through a combination of funding from the federal and provincial governments, loans from the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the private sector.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload internet speeds as a minimum basic service goal. Without additional public investment, it is unlikely that parts of eastern Ontario would reach these service levels before 2030. The average global broadband speed in 2020 is 92 Mbps and is projected to reach 110 Mbps by 2023, according to the Cisco Annual Internet Report.

“Asking rural customers to settle for the minimum level of service when urban residents and businesses currently enjoy far greater speeds is just not acceptable,” Jones said. “Our residents and businesses need to be on the same playing field as those in towns and cities.”

The EORN Gig project anticipates future needs for an investment that would last a generation by delivering speeds 20 times the minimum standard. The project has the potential to serve as a model for regions across Canada.

Delivering Gig service generally involves a fibre optic or cable connection to the home or business. The EORN Gig Project leverages previous investments in infrastructure and services. This includes a fibre optic backbone and other infrastructure across the region built to handle the speed and capacity of the Gig project.

EORN, a non-profit created by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC), works with governments and community organizations to improve and leverage broadband access to fuel economic development and growth.

From 2010 to 2014, EORN helped to improve broadband access to nearly 90 per cent of eastern Ontario through a $175 million public-private partnership. The network was funded by federal, provincial and municipal governments and private sector service providers. As a result of the project, 423,000 homes and businesses are now able to access services of up to 10 Mbps download. It also spurred more than $100 million in additional private sector investment in the region, over and above their initial commitments.

EORN is currently working on a $213 million project, funded by public and private sector partners, to improve and expand cellular services across the region. Building on that project is expected to begin in early 2021.

The EORN Gig Project would serve a geographic area that includes 13 municipal members of EOWC, including:

  • County of Frontenac
  • County of Haliburton
  • County of Hastings
  • City of Kawartha Lakes (single tier)
  • County of Lanark
  • United Counties of Leeds and Grenville
  • County of Lennox and Addington
  • County of Northumberland
  • County of Peterborough
  • United Counties of Prescott and Russell
  • County of Prince Edward (single tier)
  • County of Renfrew
  • United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry