P.E.I. government scraps $30 million plan to build internet 'backbone' cable

The P.E.I. government says it no longer plans to create its own high-speed fibre network, which broadband internet companies could build off of expanding their service to rural communities.

'We thought, we have to have a better way of delivering the service to Islanders'

The P.E.I. government had planned to build its own $30 million fibre cable, which internet providers could connect to and expand to rural homes from there. (Denis Rozhnovsky/Shutterstock)

The P.E.I. government says it's scrapping what was once a major part of its plan to boost internet speeds in rural areas. 

Last fall in its throne speech, the province announced it would spend $30 million from the capital budget over three years to build 1,450 kilometres of fibre cable, acting as an internet "backbone" spread across the Island. 

We realized the plan had to evolve.- Joe Rowledge, adviser, P.E.I. Economic Development Department 

But Joe Rowledge, a senior policy analyst with P.E.I.'s Economic Development Department, says his government decided to stop moving forward with that plan after consulting with internet companies and experts. 

He says the main issue is the cable would still rely on broadband companies to build connections from the "backbone" to homes and businesses.

"Backbone was a middle-mile play.  That means it's the back haul for your network, but it's not actually delivering the service to your home," Rowledge said.  "We thought, we have to have a better way of delivering the service to Islanders."

Joe Rowledge, a senior policy adviser with P.E.I.'s Economic Development Department, says having internet companies build their own infrastructure makes more sense. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Companies to build own infrastructure

Instead, the province has issued a request for proposals to broadband companies, to come up with their own plans for boosting speeds in underserved areas. 

Rowledge says those companies would have to build all their own infrastructure to make that happen, rather than piggybacking off a government owned cable. 

"We realized the plan had to evolve into this RFP — which was build it, deliver the service," he said. "It could be wireless, it could be wired, it could be a combination.  It's the smart way to move forward."

The province has said both it and the federal government will provide some amount of funding to companies, to ensure expanding their services into rural areas makes business sense. 

At this point, Rowledge says it's not clear how much of the $30 million that had been budgeted for the fibre backbone will go toward the new plan.

Companies have until Oct. 12 to submit their proposals to the province. 

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