A requested commitment to an Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) project was met with support last week.
Councillors supported a motion at their May 24 committee-of-the-whole meeting that would see the County contribute $40,000 toward a technical and financial analysis study for EORN’s $213-million cell gap and capacity expansion project. That would be funded through the municipality’s tax rate stabilization reserve. The motion would also commit funding in the range of $232,716–$328,996 to the expansion project, payable over four years. The final funding amounts would be determined as part of the 2019 budget process.
The motion will still have to be approved by council at their June 12 meeting.
County chief administrative officer James Hepburn told councillors several other municipalities have already introduced similar motions.
“There’s a lot of value to this project,” he said. “If we don’t commit, we’re basically left behind.”
EORN is a non-profit entity created by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC). EORN chief executive officer David Fell outlined both the study and the expansion project to councillors at their May 10 committee-of-the-whole meeting. The analysis, which would identify mobile broadband coverage and capacity issues across eastern Ontario, is anticipated to cost about $520,000. The larger project to address those issues would be a public-private partnership with a total cost of about $213 million.
Fell told councillors their share of the project could be contributed as a one-time payment or through annual payments of between $58,179 and $82,249 over a four-year period. The minimum amounts assume all 23 EOWC and Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus members contribute to the project.
A staff report presented to councillors last week says the initiative is the number one priority for the EOWC and has been the focus its efforts over the past few years.
“In order for eastern Ontario to remain economically competitive it is vital that residents have both access to reliable cellular service and the cell capacity to conduct business or manage the household,” the report says.
The report says the tourism industry in Prince Edward County has increased demand for more reliable cellular service and capacity. Tourism operators rely on cellular coverage to serve customers using point-of-sale systems, it says.
“The cell capacity in Prince Edward County is often not sufficient enough to accommodate the large number of visitors during peak tourism season,” the report says. “As a result, visitors experience dropped calls and unreliable Internet access.”
The 2016 business retention and expansion study of the manufacturing and construction sectors undertaken by the municipality found high-speed Internet was one of the major challenges standing in the way of their expansion. Nearly 30 per cent of respondents said Internet speed was a barrier to information technology requirements and 21.1 per cent said Internet access was a barrier.
“Similarly, several respondents to the 2017 business retention and expansion survey of the professional and healthcare sector identified improved Internet access as one of the most important changes they would like to see happen in the next five years,” the report says.
It is estimated that for every dollar municipalities contribute to the project, the other parties will be contributing about $21, the report says.