NORTH BAY – Speeding up the fibre optic internet service highway in Northern Ontario is something that Blue Sky Net (BSN) is hopeful of seeing in the future and, along with another agency, is running internet speed tests and getting input from residents on how good its internet connections are to put together a study for federal government review.
“We are requesting residents across Northern Ontario to take the internet speed tests on their services to gather information,” said Susan Church, executive director of Blue Sky Net. “Manitoulin Island is very much included in this, and we are gathering all of this information because of what has been included in the recent federal and provincial budgets in regards to future internet services.”
“We are gathering as much information as we can now to put a study together before government funding programs are announced; and we also understand the CRTC has, or will have, funding that we can tap into as well,” said Ms. Church. “We are working with municipalities, organizations and individuals to show funders what we are facing in Northern Ontario in terms of fibre optic internet service.”
“It has been two years since we last chatted on this issue,” Ms. Church told the Recorder. “We want to make sure we stay on top of this, collect the information we need to, so that when funding is made available we will be ready to apply.”
BSN was incorporated in 2002 as a regional economic development organization, and as ICT services increased in importance to area communities, its mandate narrowed to focus on increasing access to broadband service across unserved and underserved areas. It’s one of five such organizations scattered across the North, its website notes.
In September, BSN received funding of $1 million from FedNor for its next three years of operations.
To date, the group has helped to realize projects in more than 150 communities across its catchment area, which includes Nipissing, Parry Sound, Sudbury East and the Township of Muskoka Lakes.
Yes, there’s still lots of work to be done.
“I don’t think a lot of the gaps have been closed,” Ms. Church told Northern Ontario Business in its November 8, 2019 edition. “The problem is, if it was inexpensive, if internet service providers could afford to do it on their own, it would be done. Therein lies the problem.”
There are two major challenges Northern Ontario faces when it comes to installing fibre, Ms. Church said: the area’s rugged topography—the vast lakes, hills, rocks and trees-and its geography there are far distances between populations.
According to BSN’s Broadband and Associated Infrastructure Mapping Analysis Project (BAIMAP), 72 percent of properties in Northern Ontario have service at speeds greater than five megabits per second (Mbps), she told the Recorder, noting if all vacant properties are removed from that equation, the percentage drops down to 52 percent, or nearly half of Northern Ontario residents.
“In the current digital economy, the internet is used extensively by businesses and individuals and 5 mpbs isn’t going to meet most people or business needs,” Ms. Church said.
BSN is requesting northern Ontario residents to test the speed of their current service by visiting ConnectedNorth.ca, said Ms. Church. She said all that is required is entering your community name and address, and the site can determine the availability of service in your area. Users are also being encouraged to fill out an online survey to gauge their internet usage and online habits. All information gathered will be put together and presented to potential funders and internet service providers to bolster the case for broadband expansion in Northern Ontario.
People along the North Shore corridor are being provided an opportunity to find out how good their internet connections are, as part of a survey being carried out by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, for communities along the corridors, including Mississauga First Nations and Blind River.
Blue Sky Net is running internet speed tests online and those results will be used by the Huron North Community Economic Alliance to put together a study for federal government review.
The feds have announced a target of having internet services for 90 percent of all Canadians within the next three years.