North Simcoe municipalities attempting to address horrible Internet speeds

Some local councillors worry the below average Internet speeds in North Simcoe are negatively impacting the region’s ability to attract new business.

A recent broadband analysis revealed what many in the area already know — local access to high-quality high-speed internet is few and far between.

“There is a huge amount of businesses that won’t relocate to our area because they have researched this and found out we don’t have the download capacity (they need) and so they decide not to relocate here,” said Midland Coun. George MacDonald.

In 2011 the CRTC said all Canadians should have access to minimum download speeds of five Mbps and upload speeds of one Mbps. In 2016 this standard changed and minimum speeds of 50 Mbps and upload speeds of 10 Mbps are now considered the basic level that should be available to all Canadians.

In north Simcoe, more than 94 per cent of commercial buildings don’t have access to this basic high-speed internet, with 21 per cent not having access to even the 2011 standards.

“It is not that high speed is not available. It’s that it’s cost prohibitive for some commercial businesses to bring in the level of service they require,” said Chris McLaughlin, of North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation. “Depending on the commercial building and its location the costs can be quite significant in having the service brought in.”

McLaughlin says running fibre optic cable costs a minimum of $5,000 per kilometre and that doesn’t include engineering and other associated costs. With fibre infrastructure lacking in the region some business might have to run cable a long way to connect to a fibre network.

“It is almost a given that a business is going to require internet conductivity that is reliable and provides the ability for them to download or upload as much information as they need,” said McLaughlin. “It’s important to have the infrastructure in place to reduce the cost of getting fibre to commercial buildings.”

North Simcoe Community Futures Development Corporation partnered with the Midland, Penetanguishene, Tay, Tiny and Beausoleil First Nation to carry out the recent analysis and collected data that paints a detailed picture of the quality of internet in the region.

The current picture isn’t pretty, with Internet speeds on Beausoleil First Nation ranking second last in all of Canada.

More than 88 per cent of residents across the region don’t have access to basic high-speed internet. Of those, 22 per cent of permanent residents and 33 per cent of seasonal residents don’t even have access to the 2011 standards.

“We rely upon our Internet and I think increasingly high-speed is what is going to drive the economy,” said Midland Mayor Gord McKay. “We have a lot of work to do to get ourselves up to a modern standard.”

All five local communities rank in the bottom 25th percentile in the country for high speed internet connectivity. Out of 168 communities, Midland ranked 113, Tay sits 127, Penetanguishene is 130 and Tiny is 158.

“We were a little surprised at the level of residents who don’t have the infrastructure available to get the 50 mbps download speed,” said McLaughlin. “Some of the technology in the area is dated and doesn’t even have the capacity to reach that level.”

He suggested local councils work with developers to ensure fibre infrastructure is in place for any new developments.

“(High speed internet) is as important as your streets and your sewers. It’s key infrastructure municipalities need to keep themselves competitive,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin plans to use the local data as the foundation for funding applications in hopes of seeking out grants for broadband infrastructure projects.

Organizations such as SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology Network) and the federally funded Connect to Innovate have funding specifically set aside for broadband infrastructure projects.

“We have identified where our broadband gaps are … and we want to be able to present north Simcoe as a viable first phase through SWIFT,” said McLaughlin.

The CRTC is in the process of setting up a $750 million fund over five years to support infrastructure projects in areas that currently don’t meet the basic standard. The goal is to get 90 per cent of communities in Canada access to download speeds of 50 Mbps and download speeds of 10 Mbps by the end of 2021.

“The CRTC shouldn’t be moving to target to 2021 now, they should be looking at the end of 2018,” said MacDonald. “Businesses are not going to wait until 2021. They are making decisions today.”

Officials are planning on meeting in September to discuss next steps and continue efforts to improve broadband infrastructure in the region.

“This is great data and it will be very important over the next few years in trying to increase high speed internet for both commercial and residential,” said Coun. Jonathan Main.