CRTC ruling jump-starts expanded internet service in Southwestern Ontario
Southwestern Ontario project SWIFT to subsidize an expanded broadband network
A recent decision by the CRTC to declare broadband internet a basic service is an unexpected boon for a group of municipalities in southwestern Ontario who have been trying to get faster internet service since 2011.
"The government is finally realizing that it really is a utility that we need to start thinking about," said Geoff Hogan, executive director of SWIFT, a project initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens' Caucus to bring broadband internet to 300 communities in five years.
"The benefit, from a SWIFT perspective, is that we now have all kinds of funding opportunities that will speed up this long term vision of SWIFT of getting everyone connected."
Although Waterloo region has not officially joined the project, Wellington County has been a partner since the beginning.
Hogan said it will cost $300 million dollars to create a fibre optic network from the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, down to Windsor, across to Niagara Falls and up to Orillia.
The project already received $180 million in provincial and federal funding in July, and the participating municipalities will be contributing a total of $20 million. Hogan said the rest of the money will come from the private sector.
To understand how the private-public partnership would work, Hogan said it is best to think about a small, rural community with poor internet access.
For example, if SWIFT decided that Maryhill was an underserved community, it would open a bidding process, and any internet service provider interested in extending its service there would apply.
The provider with the best business plan would then receive partial funding from SWIFT to build the necessary infrastructure to bring broadband internet to the community.
Need for subsidies
"When you look at the way the hydro system was put in, when you look at the way the phone system was put in over the last 100 years, the government always needed to subsidize these low density areas or the private sector would never build there," Hogan said.
"That's the same reason that SWIFT has been put together today, is to subsidize the private sector to put the infrastructure in these low density areas."
The project, which began in July with the provincial and federal funding announcement, is still in its research phase.
Hogan said the next step will be to map out where the existing broadband networks are, so that SWIFT only funds infrastructure projects where they are needed most.