Manitoulin communities asked to join community-owned broadband service

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MUNICIPALITY OF HURON SHORES – Municipal mayors/reeves and First Nation chiefs from Manitoulin Island to Echo Bay are being encouraged by the Corporation of the Municipality of Huron Shores to go work together to establish community owned rural/remote broadband fibre infrastructure services in the area. 

“This is a viable proposal and option that can be considered,” Georges Bilodeau, mayor of the Corporation of the Municipality of Huron Shores, told the Recorder last week. “And the funding package is there for communities to jump on board to provide upgraded service in the area.” 

Mayor Bilodeau explained in a May 19 letter he sent on behalf of Huron Shores to municipalities, First Nations, local provincial and federal government representatives and others, May 19, “following the discharge of the Broadband Task Group under the Huron North Community Economic Alliance (HNCEA) and just prior to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council of the Municipality of Huron Shores appointed an ad-hoc broadband committee to remain active in furthering broadband efforts in the municipality of Huron Shores.”
“Now, more than ever, our area is realizing the need for reliable and cost-effective rural broadband,” said Mayor Bilodeau. “It is our intent to continue to actively seek out effective rural broadband solutions. It has been shown from other areas, such as the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, that a regional approach will place us in a better position to seek out funding opportunities and provide network opportunities to our most rural areas.”

In his letter, Mayor Bilodeau explained, “I write to inquire as to your interest in establishing a network along the north shore of Lake Huron focused solely on furthering our regional broadband efforts. For those municipalities who are a member of HNCEA, I am pleased to learn that they will be establishing a broadband strategy committee to assist in the development of a strategy for the region which will be of great benefit in these efforts.”

“I will be contacting all mayors and chiefs from Manitoulin Island to Echo Bay in order to obtain your thoughts. It is my hope that an electronic meeting of all interested parties can be arranged soonest possible,” wrote Mayor Bilodeau. 

“We believe it would be a good concept to have all these communities together on this,” said Mayor Bilodeau, who explained his idea is to go beyond the 50/10 Mpbs minimum speed recommended by the CRTC. 

“In March HNCEA postponed the work they had been doing and cancelled the idea of moving ahead. That was disappointing for us, we felt that the municipal owned network would have been a good fit,” said Mayor Bilodeau. He said in his community of Iron Bridge, service is poor in many areas and cost prohibitive. He said he also knows of the problems with service that areas like Manitoulin currently have. 

“Our main goal at this point is to get 10, 15, 20 communities to agree in principle to look at the community owned partnership, and then apply for funding through FedNor for an engineer and business plan to be completed, and go from there to look at applying for funding from the $150 million available through the CRTC with a plan in place to have top quality rural/remote broadband fibre infrastructure services in a community owned process established.” Revenues would be derived from the entire area paying for internet service, say at $100 per month, $12,000 per home and accumulated revenues would be divided among the community partners. 

Mayor Bilodeau said MP Carol Hughes is in support of the concept and will help in trying to have FedNor provide funding for the project. In a letter to Mayor Bilodeau May 25 she wrote, “I can advise that one of the major challenges that I’ve encountered since the COVID-19 pandemic started and social distancing measures became common place has been from constituents who are paying exorbitant amounts for limited broadband services, particularly those on internet hubs. It’s become particularly challenging for many families who are working from home, or have children who are students who are required to take online classes. With no other options for alternative broadband internet in some instances, some families are forced to either severely limit what they can do online, or risk paying large overage charges for services.”

“On the issue of a municipally coordinated approach, there is another group in the riding who has done just this,” wrote MP Hughes. “The Northeast Superior Regional Broadband Network (NSRBN), consisting of Brunswick House First Nation, Chapleau Cree First Nation, The Township of Chapleau, The Township of Dubreuilville, The Township of Hornepayne, Michipicoten First Nation, Missanabie Cree First Nation, Pic Mobert First Nation, the Municipality of Wawa and the Township of White River, have joined together to apply for funding through the CRTC Broadband Fund. I’ve written a letter of support in March for their application, and would be happy to support you in your process as well.”