KAWARTHA LAKES-If you’ve been wondering why you sometimes have dropped cell calls and poor coverage in some areas, there’s a reason. 16 % of our region doesn’t have any cellular coverage at all and another 20% doesn’t have enough cell capacity according to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network. (EORN)
The statistics were presented to council at Tuesday’s meeting when a representative from EORN made a pitch to council for almost a million dollars to help improve coverage.
David Fell, Chief Executive Officer for EORN says “It’s a 299 million dollar project, about two thirds of that is to close the commercial cell gaps and to increase the capacity so that residents in Eastern Ontairo can do all the things they can do elsewhere in the province.”
The proposed mobile broadband expansion project, when fully implemented, would provide 99.5% cellular coverage throughout Eastern Ontario according to Fell. The City of Kawartha Lakes is an active member of the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus (EOWC) and one priority focus of EOWC is improving mobile broadband and cellular networks to facilitate innovation and economic growth in all sectors of the regional economy.
The two groups have identified gaps in cellular coverage and capacity across the region and prepared a full business case to support expansion of cellular networks and mobile broadband services across Eastern Ontario.
Councillor Breadner questioned the investment saying, “So it would be a fair assessment to categorize that if we as council support this investment we are essentially subdisizing the telecommunications industry in some fashion?” Fell characterized it as an attepmt to close a market failure gap where the private sector isn’t going.
“First of all I have a problem with the $900,000 that’s going to be invested,” Breadner said. There’s no way to guarnatee the $900,00 is going to be spent in our community.”
Fell agreed that there was no guarantee where the money would be spent but he said based on the first time the city invested in service expanion, it’s still a good investment for the community. “I think you got a 16-1 return on your investments last time so I believe the average number was around 14% so if you invested a million dollars you would have likely got about 14 million dollars in infrasturcture built in this community.”
Councillor Gord Miller says “This is about growth, this is about getting people here, its about quality of life.”
The project may also include the development of a pilot Public Safety Broadcast Network for first responders covering Eastern Ontario. “Canada and the US have allocated a spectrum to create a national public safety network that would allow first responders to communcate with each other,” Fell explained. “Right now if you get into an accident on Highway 7 when I am driving home and you call 911 then the first reponders can’t talk to each other to coordinate in terms of the severity of an accident.”
Fell says they have a plan to build a network that would allow them to do that going forward. “We’ve put that buiness case forward to the federal and provincial governments.”
EORN is asking all eastern municiplaities to contribute and if all municipal partners participate and the Federal and Provincial grants are approved would be approximately $10.1 – $14.2 million. The estimated Kawartha Lakes contribution share would be $450,000 – $900,000. These estimates depend on a number of variables including final project design, funding support from other levels of government and total participating municipal partners.
But Councillor Breadner thought council should be lobbying the government to ensure all residents get the same coverage. “People in our area are paying the same amount for their cell phone bill even though we don’t get the same service.” Breadner says we should be paying less.
“We’ve advocated basic service for all Canadians should be accessible,” Fell remarked. “The CRTC is in the process of establishing a fund from the telecommuncitions companies, currently there’s a subsidy fund where they take a percent of all the revenues from all the companies that make over ten million dollars and then that fund is made available for them to invest in landline phone sevice in rural areas and they are propsing to establish the same kind of fund for basic service for broadband and for mobile.”
Council voted to support this project by making a financial contribution once the full extent of the project is determined by the Federal and Provincial governments.
“Council made it a strategic priority to enhance our telecommunications and utilities infrastructure. It’s also one of the highest priorities for entrepreneurs, developers and others who recognize broadband access as a driver of our economic development. I’m very pleased that Kawartha Lakes will be a partner in this project,” commented Ron Taylor, CAO.