Janet McFarland, writing in the Globe and Mail on Monday said it all: “Rural Canada may need to drive itself on to the Net’s fast lane.” Although the Federal government has mandated that every Canadian will have high speed Internet available by 2004, no roll out schedule exists in Northern Ontario to make that happen. In fact it is expected that less than 50% of communities in Canada will have high-speed access by then.
807 Northwest Network will deliver broadband Internet access to municipalities, First Nations, federal government and other government related agencies, local service boards and not-for-profit corporations. Fort Frances will begin receiving this service in October, but individual businesses and homeowners are not eligible to use the network.
Our major telecom company is competing in the major centres of Ontario and has shown no inclination to announce any roll out of high speed services in Northwestern Ontario. They just don’t want to spend money in rural Ontario on infrastructure.
The only alternative remaining is for the Rainy River District to become involved and create its own network for businesses. Such a network would access the best medical, health, education opportunities and create the ability to promote local economic development.
A community model is Upper Canada Networks of Kemptville, Ontario. In Kemptville, Vic Allen created a not-for-profit corporation to bring broadband access to several communities in eastern Ontario.
His model uses wireless technologies to connect the several communities. Businesses put antennae on their roofs. The simplicity is that it is fully expandable and doesn’t require the running of lines.
And the costs to users are much lower than those of Bell. The network cost was $3.5 million to build shared between the Ontario government and community institutions and companies which matched the provincial funding.
South of Fort Frances, the IRRRB (Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board) has laid out an aggressive plan that will have fibre-optic cable to almost every community by 2003. High-tech industrial parks are being created in Hoyt Lakes, Aurora, Viginia, Eveleth, Chisholm, Cook and other locations.
The service will deliver to every school district the same amount of band width that 807-Northwest Network is delivering to Atikokan, Fort Frances, Rainy River and Nestor Falls.
Economic development is driven by business. Employment opportunities are created by business. Minnesota, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan understand that and are putting in place the new tools of industry for industry. The district and Northern Ontario are being left in their dust.
Our best solution to get in the “fast Net lane” is to drive ourselves.