|Back to Home||Feature Article - June 28, 2012|
Getting to the last mile - broadband in eastern Ontarioby Jeff Green
Public meetings were held this week in Sydenham and Sharbot Lake about the roll-out of high speed internet service in Frontenac County for some of the more remote and hard to reach customers.
Jim Pine is the Chief Administrative Officer of Hastings County and one of the co-leads of the $170 million EORN (Eastern Ontario Regional Network) project. He outlined how the project intends to bring the potential of a 10 megabit per second download service to 95% of the 1.1 million households in Eastern Ontario (excluding the City of Ottawa), a region that is the size of Nova Scotia.
“And as we have negotiated contracts with providers, we have also insisted on pricing that is within the same range as urban pricing,” Jim Pine said.
The first part of the project, which Pine called the back haul portion, is almost complete. That involved a contract with Bell Alliant to put in a fiber network, which will create 160 so-called “points of presence” within the territory. These are locations where a large amount of internet capacity has been built up - enough to withstand the ever-increasing demand for information that is envisioned over the next 14 years. Service providers have contracted with EORN to deliver this capacity with the surrounding regions, either through wired service through phone lines, or through a fixed wireless system delivered through a line of sight signal to a radio on a subscriber’s rooftop or out-building.
The points of presence in the Frontenac News readership are as follows: Denbigh, Northbrook, Plevna, Arden, Maberly, McDonalds Corners, Verona, Harrowsmith and Enterprise.
Two of the major locations not included in this list are Sharbot Lake and Sydenham, which interestingly enough were the locations of the public meetings. The reason for the omission is that both of those communities already had service in place before EORN came along.
The second part of the EORN mission is the “last mile”, the delivery of service from these points of presence to locations dotted around the region. The region was divided into zones in order to put together service contracts, and different communities in Frontenac County, Addington Highlands and Western Lanark County ended up in different zones. This means there are a number of service providers that will be active in the region, from Xplornet and Bell in the north, to Storm Internet to the east, and Bell and Xplornet in parts of South Frontenac.
At the EORN website there is a service locator through which a specific location can be plugged in and a timeline for service delivery is available.
Finally, there were a number of more remote locations where no amount of subsidy was enough to entice service providers to enter the market. A swath of north-eastern North Frontenac Township and some remote or wooded pockets throughout the region will not be reached by either DSL or fixed wireless technology.
“One principle that we had was that we didn't want to leave anyone behind. That's why we negotiated with satellite companies for improved pricing and levels of service,” said Jim Pine.
EORN purchased space on a satellite that was launched last fall and another to be launched this summer, and has negotiated a pricing agreement with Xplornet so there is now a viable satellite service available everywhere throughout Eastern Ontario.
Laura Bradley is the technical manager for the EORN project. Prior to that she worked as a consultant on a previous broadband project in the region, including projects for both Frontenac County and North Frontenac Township.
She is pleased about the way this project has come about and the level of service that is coming on stream between now and when the project must be completed, in early 2014.
“The fact that we are able to deliver the 10 megabit service through the entire region is phenomenal,” she said. "With the bulk we could offer to the marketplace, and the incentives, we found that the capacity became stronger and stronger,” she said. “This is really good service for such a large rural area.”
Lisa Severson, a communications officer with EORN, said that the project is the only one of its kind, and is being studied by other provinces and other countries struggling to bring rural broadband on stream.
“It only happened because every municipality in the region decided to participate. That was the essential element,” she said.
Interestingly enough, the audience at the meeting in Sharbot Lake was generally made up of customers of North Frontenac Telephone Company, which has built their one network out over the last 10 years, delivering DSL service in the Parham and Sharbot Lake area.
One issue that was raised had to do with a tower that Xplornet is proposing to put up on a farm located 900 metres south of MacCrimmons Bay, on the east basin of the lake.
Rick Beasley, who lives on the Bay, opposes the tower that is being proposed by Xplornet.
Dave Smith, the general manager of the North Frontenac Telephone Company, was also on hand at the meeting. He wondered why the tower was being proposed when his company is already serving the surrounding region with service.
Laura Bradley said that the detailed mapping of the North Frontenac Telephone (NFTC) service area has not been made available to EORN, and Xplornet was under the impression that the tower will access properties that NFTC does not cover.
“We can give you the mapping,” said Smith.
“Then the tower may not happen at all,” said Bradley.
She explained that there is a clear hierarchy of Internet service. DSL is the top level, followed by fixed wireless, and then satellite.
“North Frontenac Telephone’s service area cannot be threatened by Xplornet Towers, because Xplornet is offering fixed wireless service, not DSL. I have never seen a case where a customer has switched from DSL to fixed wireless. It won’t happen.”
Marcel Giroux, from the Robinson Group, a financial management group based in Sharbot Lake, said that his company has thrived in Sharbot Lake thanks in part to the Internet service they have enjoyed from NFTC since 2004.
“Ten years ago, people told us we were going to have to move, because our business is entirely conducted electronically, but we have had such great service from NFTC that we have grown locally instead. For EORN to bring this service to the entire region like this can only be a good thing. It is going to make the success we have enjoyed available to so many other businesses, he said.
“With this in place, we can aggressively market Eastern Ontario as a location for e-business,” concluded Jim Pine.