Manitoba city of Morden may be 1st in country to offer internet as service for residents

More than 8,000 people in Morden, Man., will be able to say goodbye to monthly internet bills this fall, after the community rolls out high-speed, community-owned internet as a city service.

City of 8,000 will begin rollout of Morenet internet this spring, full implementation by fall

People in Morden will pay no monthly charges after a $400 installation fee for internet from the city. (AFP/Getty Images)

More than 8,000 people in Morden, Man., will be able to say goodbye to monthly internet bills this fall, after the community rolls out high-speed, community-owned internet as a city service.

In May the city will begin phasing in Morenet, a 5G internet service built and maintained by the city through property taxes and offered at no extra monthly fee to users.

Dave Haines, director of planning and engineering for the city roughly 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, said residents and businesses in the area have put up with less-than-great internet service for too long.

"Really, our goal is that our community won't have to think about internet service again," he said.

Officials have been planning for the move for the past few years by finding ways to save money on other city services and free up funds for Morenet, Haines said. When the program is fully rolled out in September, he thinks Morden will be the first community in the country to offer a service of its kind.

"We've had some great opportunities and people here are pretty open, always looking ahead," Haines said.

"We're just motivated people trying to do the best for our community, and we work really well together."

$400 installation fee, no property tax change

The service will offer 100 megabit per second upload and download speeds for the first few years, working up to one gigabit per second speeds by 2021, Haines said.

According to the results of a 2016 speed test, Manitobans on average experienced a download speed of 12.6 megabits per second — among the slowest in the country.

The community is developing a network of towers that will operate as the "backbone" of the service, Haines added. So far, the plan is to build 10 of them, but that number could increase if service levels aren't up to snuff.

The whole project is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $400,000. Haines said property taxes won't increase to cover the cost.

To get the service, customers will pay a $400 fee to get a city-approved wireless router and installation by a city-certified technician. After that, there are no more charges, Haines said.

Commercial and residential customers will get different packages but other than that, Haines said the service is one size fits all. Customer support will be "lean," he said, with some staff in charge of maintaining the network itself and most troubleshooting information available online.

Haines pointed to the CRTC's December 2016 declaration that broadband internet is a basic telecommunications service. He said the city has heard from residents and businesses that internet in the area wasn't good enough.

"We have a pretty strong immigration program and some of the immigrants that come, they're connecting back home. Businesses are connecting across the world to each other," he said. "Internet's really critical for that."