| Aug 07, 2008

Feature Article - August 7, 2008

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Feature Article - August 7, 2008 Frontenac County to double up for broadbandBy Jefff Green

Frontenac County will prepare two applications to try to get a larger share of a $30 million pool of provincial money that is earmarked for rural broadband, county council decided last week.

Laura Bradley, from the consulting group Actionable Intelligence, has prepared a detailed gap map for Frontenac County. Split into 6 sq.km, hexagonal sections, the map marks off which of the sections do not have broadband service available to at least 75% of the area.

The Actionable Intelligence map includes 50 changes from a map released by the province earlier this year. In most cases, these involve changing the designation from “served” to “unserved”.

Not surprisingly, the gaps are more extensive the further north you go in the county, and because of the topography and small population in the parts of North and Central Frontenac where broadband is unavailable, filling those gaps will be more difficult, according to Bradley.

“Areas with lower population densities have trouble acquiring services. This is a reality because you are talking about businesses who have to make money,” she said.

Dianna Bratina, Frontenac County’s Manager for Economic Development, suggested in a report that the county could maximize its chances of receiving support if it takes a two-pronged approach, in partnership with the Township of North Frontenac.

The proposal suggested focusing on the smaller service gaps in South and Central Frontenac for the first intake of the program, whose deadline is in late September, and preparing a more detailed proposal, in partnership with the private sector and the Township of North Frontenac, for the second intake in February.

A single municipality can make only one application at a time, and must complete its project before making a second application. To get around this, the first application is to be submitted by Frontenac County and the second by North Frontenac Township.

It makes sense to focus on the southern region first, according to Laura Bradley, because there is not much time available before the September 19 deadline, and “in the south there is an opportunity to look at allowing existing vendors to make extensions to their network. “

North Frontenac Mayor Ron Maguire said that North Frontenac Township was considering filing their own application in September, and suggested participating with the county-initiated process to apply once again in February. However, the fact that only one project can proceed at a time led Maguire to reconsider.

After a short recess in which a delegation of councilors and staff from North Frontenac had a chance to talk amongst themselves, Maguire said “We are prepared to support what is on the table, and the county can go forward in September with respect to the south, and for the one in February for the north. Having said that, it allows all of us in the north to get all of our ducks in a row.”

Frontenac County Warden Jim Vanden Hoek introduced a new wrinkle to the debate by expressing political concern.

“In politics perception lasts longer than reality. I think there is the risk here that there could be a successful application, deemed to be submitted by the county, and an unsuccessful application from the north, with the perception being that the county efforts are only benefiting the south. There are benefits to this two-stage process, but if the cards don't fall the right way, folks in the north might be upset. I have real concern that there is a political risk to this.”

Mayor Janet Gutowski did not share Vanden Hoek's concern. “The perception should be that we are doing the right thing for all parts of the county. This is a comprehensive plan as to how we are going to proceed for the benefit of the entire county.”

South Frontenac Mayor Gary Davison was not in attendance. The proposal was approved.

Actionable Intelligence has been engaged to work on the two applications concurrently, at a cost of $15,750 for the first, and $17,225 for the second.

If approved, the projects will require more municipal money to proceed. The Ontario Rural Connections Program is based on a model whereby the province provides 1/3 of the funding, the private sector 1/3, and the municipal applicant 1/3.

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