Across some of the more rural areas of North Bay and neighbouring municipalities, getting affordable and reliable internet service remains a struggle.
Blue Sky Net has met with representatives from regional municipalities about working on a study to identify gaps in service in order to improve access for businesses and residents.
“It becomes an issue of geography, low population base and the inability to make a good business case and unfortunately internet service providers aren’t volunteer-based organizations. They have to make a profit, so that’s the challenge we face,” explained executive director Susan Church.
North Bay city councillor Mike Anthony put forward a motion at Tuesday night’s council meeting proposing to support Blue Sky Net in its efforts.
Anthony said it is difficult talking about growth and trying to attract companies, when businesses express concern over how they are going to be able to access technology.
“In today’s day and age when we talk about growth or investment or attracting new residents or anything like that, having connectivity for a community, infrastructure that is related to technology is as important as clean drinking water or physical infrastructure like roads,” said Anthony.
“We do still have some parts of the city that don’t have the best connectivity. This comes out of meeting with our regional neighbours, and really some of them do not have the infrastructure they need. North Bay needs to be on top of the infrastructure it needs when it comes to technology.”
What is good for the region is good for North Bay and vice versa.
“While we’re fairly fortunate overall in the city, we have got to stay on top of the technology. This study will help us do that. Our success is tied together as a region. We have to support our fellow communities that really need this as well because success is infectious. That synergy comes from helping each other and recently 21 representatives from area municipalities got together and met with Blue Sky on this, and that is where that motion came out of.”
Church says they need to be organized and have a solid plan in place before applying for funding.
“Whenever you’re doing a broadband project, you have to have three partners. You have to have the provincial government, the federal government, and an internet service provider,” said Church.
“We would all have internet if it were cheap to build. Because it is so expensive, rural areas in Canada are left out. So, at the end of the day, if you don’t have both levels of government playing in the sandbox at the same time, we’re held back. And that is what has been happening unfortunately in Ontario.”
Church goes on to say change is underway.
“There was a commitment of $350 million in the recent provincial budget, lots of policy around it, no details yet but we’re hoping that is going to happen one of these days. And there is also a top-up to Connecting Canadians which is another federal program,” said Church.
“So, we’re hoping that the money is going to be there. Now what has to happen is, we all have to be ready to jump in with applications and that means working with municipalities, working with providers, getting the facts straight so that we have really solid proposals to put forward.”
Admittedly there is a lot of work to be done as part of this on-going process.
“In many of these programs, unfortunately, the ivory towers make the decisions in Ottawa or Toronto. They don’t necessarily know what it is like to live in rural northern Ontario where on a good day you get almost 750 Kbps down.”
City council approved Anthony’s motion which would see Blue Sky Net leading a steering committee with a council representative at the table.