Background on Broadband Services:
There is no argument amongst governments, social planners and economists that access to broadband is an essential part of a country’s overall economy and social development. World-wide, citizens rely on high-speed Internet to access basic services like healthcare and education as well as to improve social inclusion. While contributing to innovation by helping business processes become more effective, broadband services in smaller rural communities can bring new entrepreneurs to a global audience.
For Mississippi Mills the involvement began over a decade ago when the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus (EOWC) recognized that a regional approach was required to address amongst other challenges, the broadband gaps within the 13 Counties representing over 750,000 residents in the Eastern Ontario region of 45,000 km2.
The EOWC created the Eastern Ontario Regional Network Inc. (EORN) as a separately incorporated not for profit entity controlled by EORN. Working with provincial and federal counterparts, the EOWC and EORN secured private and public-sector investment of over $175M to improve internet services for 89% of Eastern Ontario households (up to 10Mbps and a further 9% from 1.5Mpbs to 9Mbps). The project was completed in 2015 in collaboration with EORN’s 6-private commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) partners, who own and operate the network.
The project included a fibre backbone across Eastern Ontario, with 160 Points of Presence, as well as last mile based on a variety of technologies including DSL (Digital subscriber line), FTTx (Fibre to the Home, Premises, Building, Curb, Node or Neighbourhood) and fixed wireless. A satellite component was included to ensure a measure of service was available to all residents.
Notwithstanding the above, Mississippi Mills remains one of the poorest served municipalities in Canada, with rural access limited to only those with proximity to the more urban centres. The capacity and performance associated with the initial EORN project is being rapidly outstripped by the bandwidth consumption patterns of the public. Demand for constantly increasing speeds and capacity continues to put pressure on the networks and its technologies.
The CRTC’s universal service objective of providing internet speeds of 50 Mbps download, and 10 Mbps up (50/10) with a 100GB data cap by 2021 for 90% of Canadian homes and small businesses represents a huge stretch for rural Mississippi Mills users. In a 2016 study published by CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), the urban areas of the City of Ottawa registered 22.53/10.19 while Greely, primarily rural reported speeds of 6.02/1.3. Rural Mississippi Mills has a more severe service issue since speed and capacity is reduced or unavailable owing to the terrain and availability of fixed wireless, satellite and signal degradation through woodlands. Service capacity is also a current limitation whereby speeds are severely reduced during higher usage periods. DSL services are often not possible owing to long wireline loop lengths and lack of equipment technology at remote wireline service units.
Investment to-date by large carriers in Canada has been limited to broadband roll-out in the urban centres or areas close by e.g. Arnprior or Carleton Place. There has been little increase in coverage, speeds or capacity for rural Mississippi Mills since EORN’s initial broadband project was completed in 2015.
EORN is also currently feeling the pressure from residents requiring cellular services. This issue has become front and center for them as having access to a cell phone is seen as essential, especially in remote areas. The 2019 priority for EORN will remain improving cellular service with the possibility of conducting a gap analysis for broadband coverage in Eastern Ontario later this year; but alas no short-term relief of the broadband access requirements.
The changing usage patterns driving escalating internet access speeds coupled to-date with an inability of the federal and provincial governments to bring practical and timely solutions leaves rural Mississippi Mills without much hope of improving broadband access during the next five years. This further emphasizes the need for local stewardship of a solution. MM2020 is determined to be the voice of rural Mississippi Mills to assess and inform regarding Mississippi Mills broadband requirements; promote & facilitate accelerated broadband deployment for ALL of Mississippi Mills; and target the year 2020 for delivery to every household.
MM2020 is a community volunteer group, supported by the Municipality of Mississippi Mills, working to provide broadband access to all Mississippi Mills residents. Originally, the MM2020 plan was for each service area/community to work together for a bulk purchase of service with MM2020 assisting with the technical aspects of the network as well as dealing with the providers. Some movement has been made through market forces, residents working together and sheer determination on the part of some volunteers.
By 2018 year-end most of Almonte residents and businesses have gigabit fiber access – service levels that are amongst the best in Canada; Appleton has moved forward with purchasing a community-wide service paid for by the residents; Clayton is currently surveying their residents for commitment to a pilot project for a buried fibre cable network.
It is clear from surveys conducted by MM2020 that much of rural Mississippi Mills falls within that 61% of homes and small businesses in Eastern Ontario that are poorly serviced, and it is also clear that the poor access to this critical infrastructure is now inhibiting Mississippi Mills economic development, a circumstance that will only worsen as reliance on internet technologies deepens. In response, MM2020 is driving the initiative to accelerate deployment of CRTC-compliant broadband to address the needs of rural Mississippi Mills for economic development and social needs; the assertion being that other forces are not likely to address the requirement in the targeted timeline of 2021, much less 2020.
In this effort, in the winter and spring of 2018, residents in Clayton, Pakenham and Blakeney responded overwhelmingly that they are willing to contract with a sole provider for broadband services. About half of the 1600 homes replied to the survey, with identical results in all three communities. The vast majority were not satisfied with their internet service or cell phone service. Surprisingly, 38% of respondents telecommute and 28% have a home-based business.
In their presentation on June 2, 2018, to the Community and Economic Development Committee (CEDC) of Mississippi Mills, MM2020 received support to move forward with a business plan to accomplish the goal to provide Broadband Internet access to all rural areas of Mississippi Mills. The business plan was needed:
- because the market has not naturally delivered Broadband infrastructure to MM;
- to document the requirement for broadband by analyzing the regional MM2020 survey data sets to quantify and characterize the need for rural broadband access;
- to identify financial and non-financial benefits;
- to outline approaches for accelerating commercial delivery of the infrastructure;
- examine Municipal involvement; alignment with overall Municipal strategy, and other levels of governance as appropriate;
- Identify steps from Business Case acceptance through to Broadband service delivery
Business Plan Project
On Dec 5, 2018, Robert Leitch and Nelson Rogers from SONOPTIC Media & Communications and Community Ingenuity were selected as consultants for the MM2020 – Business Case & Validation of Deployment Options project. They worked closely with the MM2020 team of Mark Joynes, MM2020 Committee Chair, Clem Pelot, Doris Rankin, Howard Robinson, and Chris Barlow to review and discuss the Consolidated Survey Data and background documentation including maps of the study areas, and to guide SONOPTIC in development of the Business Case document.
2019: A New Year
2018 was a year of information gathering and organizing to drive the case forward for rural broadband access. On February 8th Robert & Nelson completed the Phase 1 Business Case. A review of municipal procurement policies as they relate to the Municipal Act and funding options was also completed as part of that activity. That document will be made public shortly and posted to the MM2020 website (by the 1st week of March).
With the Business Case & Deployment Options Phase 1 completed and the Clayton Pilot poised for deployment as soon as the frost clears from the ground, MM2020 sets its sights on the year 2020.
During the week of February 11th, the MM2020 team met with Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark – Frontenac – Kingston to ensure that we’re on the provincial radar. Mr. Hillier was generous with his time and had a keen interest in the MM2020 activity. We also met with the regional supplier responsible for the Clayton pilot and left confident this aspect of the initiative is tracking to timeline and is in very capable hands.
While the snow is still dominating the landscape, putting a freeze on the pilot activity until the frost is out of the ground, MM2020 will be seeking feedback on the Business Case. We will also be looking for opportunities with the new Municipal Council to put the MM2020 initiative firmly on the Municipal agenda; and promote active pursuit of Mississippi-Mills-wide rollout of broadband technology.
MM2020 encourages you to read the Business Case and its recommendations, provide comment and/or suggestions, and participate with us to keep this issue front and center for Mississippi Mills.