Wellington North fears broadband upgrades won’t arrive soon enough

KENILWORTH – High speed internet is a high priority for Wellington North councillors.

But they fear rural residents will continue to have service inferior to that of their urban counterparts.

On Sept. 9 council discussed available options to bring high-speed internet service to rural residents.

Mayor Andy Lennox noted that earlier in the meeting council received a brief update on the county SWIFT program designed to entice providers to provide rural broadband to underserviced parts of Wellington.

Councillor Steve McCabe said the issue is obviously important for local residents and he is pleased to see progress at the county level.

He asked if it was just larger internet providers contacted for the SWIFT request for proposals (RFP).

Wellington County councillor Steve O’Neill said Wightman is definitely involved.

Mayor Andy Lennox hoped the RFP would attract a range of potential suppliers.

Councillor Dan Yake admitted to not knowing all the issues involved for the provision of the service, “But it seems all levels of government have been working on this over the past few years to bring this forward.”

While Yake was encouraged by funding announcements, he asked how long it’s going to take for the service to be provided or the issue resolved.

Lennox said, “My perception is that the federal government standard for minimum bandwidth or service is probably five or ten years behind what it ought to be.”

And the need for increased bandwidth is accelerating, Lennox said.

“My fear is that while there may be some progress providing rural broadband through SWIFT, it is not going to be close to what is enjoyed elsewhere.”

The mayor agreed sections of Wellington North, such as Mount Forest, are fortunate there is a provider of high-speed fibre optic internet service.

However, most of the township does not have that access, Lennox said, noting, “Most rural residents have access to only a fraction of that level of service – and at a higher price.”

While Lennox applauded the SWIFT initiative, he said “while there will be progress, I think this is something we are going to be chasing for years, to get the level of service fibre optics provide in Mount Forest.”

He noted some businesses have actually incurred the cost to bring fibre optic cables to their rural properties.

McCabe agreed service in rural areas, including where he lives, is poor and connections can be lost because of a number of factors.

At the same time, McCabe said it is critical for some businesses in Wellington North to undertake transactions “in real time,” whether it is Facebook or conference calls.

“While it sounds like a first-world problem,” McCabe said hopefully a solution comes sooner than later.

Lennox said he had initial discussions with Wightman’s and the response seemed open and honest. For them it is an economic question, he said.

Lennox said installing fibre optic cable along rural roads doesn’t earn the same revenue as servicing a new subdivision, “So the rural context is really not that attractive.”

Lennox added, “my fear is that by the time we reach the current government standard of service, it will be outdated.”