Nova Scotia

Cumberland, Colchester counties want high-speed internet and they want it now

Two rural Nova Scotia counties want to make sure their communities get high-speed internet as soon as possible, so they're asking companies already shortlisted for a provincial process to submit proposals to them first.

'We want 100 per cent coverage and we want it tomorrow,' says Colchester County official

Crown corporation Develop Nova Scotia is overseeing a $193 million provincial trust fund for rural high-speed internet, which has a goal of providing the service to 95 per cent of Nova Scotians within five years. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

Two rural Nova Scotia counties want to make sure their communities get high-speed internet as soon as possible, so they're asking companies already shortlisted for a provincial process to submit proposals to them first.

"It's not just about quality of life, but also the pursuit of economic activities that depend on the digital economy, so we figured out a way to piggyback on Develop Nova Scotia's process," said Mark Austin, the economic development officer for Colchester County.

Cumberland County is the other county involved.

Develop Nova Scotia, a provincial agency, is overseeing a $193 million provincial trust fund for rural high-speed internet. The goal is to provide the service to 95 per cent of Nova Scotians within five years.

In April, the Crown corporation announced a list of eight companies and two municipalities that had pre-qualified to submit applications for funding. That list includes Bell, Eastlink and the Municipality of the County of Kings. The mayor of Kings said his municipality is ready to take the lead on "democratizing the internet."

Why Kings County says it can do the job

"We have the internal infrastructure, an IT department, we have a plan to get some financing from the federal government and we already own part of a dark-fibre spine between Halifax and Middleton that is waiting to be used," said Peter Muttart. "We want to be rolling out the work before the end of the year."

Applications for the first phase of Develop Nova Scotia's process have to be in by the end of June. The projects are to get underway in the next six to 12 months. A second round of applications for longer-term proposals will be accepted in the fall.

Although Cumberland and Colchester counties weren't ready to meet the provincial agency's timeline, they were also unwilling to wait.

"We want 100 per cent coverage and we want it tomorrow," said Austin. "We're looking for 2019 projects and then incremental, upgradeable networks over the next three years."

What Cumberland, Colchester counties plan to do

The two municipalities are hoping to find a private partner that already has a project in mind for their area so they can "sweeten the pot." They hope municipal contributions will help the projects get provincial funds.

Develop Nova Scotia spokesperson Deborah Page would not comment on any individual proposal. She said the cost of reaching the 95 per cent coverage goal could be between $300 and $500 million, so federal and municipal cost sharing is expected. But according to Page, it does not mean an area will be left out if a municipality is not involved.

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