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Springwater residents take high-speed internet matters into their own hands

‘We have interest in the community for us to start our own internet (company),’ says organizer

Many Springwater Township residents are tired of slow internet speeds and some have decided together to take a more proactive approach to bring fibre-optic speeds to their homes.

On July 22, a new committee of community members, led by resident Jeff Kerk, held a meeting at his property in the township. About 60 people attended the outdoor, socially distanced gathering to discuss internet rates, speeds and what can be done to get high-speed internet out to the rural area.

The committee has been collecting surveys from residents on the issue, with about 60 people completing the survey so far.

And if a major company won’t step up with high-speed, the group is planning to take matters into their own hands.

“We are wanting to let internet companies know we exist and are willing to work with a company to come to us. Failing that, we have interest in the community for us to start our own internet (service provider). That’s much, much harder, but it would see us applying for SWIFT grants to run fibre down to our neck of the woods,” Kerk said.

Kerk’s committee has put together money to hire a private consultant who specializes in network design to look at what it would take to build the required infrastructure.

He said the average speeds in Springwater currently hover at around five megabits per second download speed/0.5 megabits per second upload speed.

“They’re just not adequate for us to do really anything ‘new’ on the internet, like having a Zoom meeting or having your kids attend school taking online courses, or even watching Netflix,” he said.

The benefit of organizing is the group can combine the survey data with a pledge to commit a certain number of customers and make a business case to bring internet to the area.

“That will allow us to then approach companies such as Vianet, Rogers or Bell to show them (we’ve done) the legwork. It will make it a little more appealing to them to want to come to a smaller area,” he said.

Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) issued a request for proposals (RFP) in March for up to $28 million to provide fast, reliable internet service to residents living in Simcoe County.

Service providers have until Sept. 11 to submit network designs and proposals to address broadband service gaps in eligible funding areas throughout the county.

SWIFT is a non-profit regional broadband project initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to subsidize the construction of high-speed broadband networks across southwestern Ontario. When evaluating and selecting projects for funding, SWIFT takes into consideration the ability to provide 50/10 service or greater, number of premises passed, future scalability of the network, and service provider contribution proportion.

The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and SWIFT have said they’re committed to achieving the interim goal of providing 50/10 broadband services to 95 per cent of the population within the region by 2025.

However, according to Kerk, just because the grant funding is available doesn’t mean companies will choose to apply for it.

“We might find, come Sept. 11, that say Bell has committed to a plan to bring internet to Springwater, and that would be fantastic. But, we don’t know if they’re doing that. They haven’t knocked on our doors to ask us if we want them to apply for the grant. They may or may not,” said Kerk. “Simcoe County is pretty big and there’s not great service everywhere. There have been grant packages presented in the past and rural communities are still under-served.”

“I’ve been hearing about (SWIFT) for about seven or eight years now. I think every politician has spoken about it for a very long time. I just haven’t seen it everywhere yet,” he added.

Kerk is the director of diagnostic and therapeutic services at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, and also ran as the Liberal Party candidate in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte in the last provincial election.

He says that if his committee is going to have to go so far as to create their own private internet company, he would like to see speeds that exceed the 50/10 minimum put forward by the government.

“I’d like real fibre-optic, super-fast internet where our home values go up 10 per cent because it’s that fast,” he said. “It should be fast enough for people to work from home. I work in radiology for my job, and I have doctors that need to be able to look at very large X-ray files and they would never be able to live in this community. I want it to be that fast.”

To get fibre-optic internet to rural areas, cables can be run on the same track as telephone lines to reach any area. Then, once enough people in one area sign on for the service, crews are hired to run cables to individual houses.

The trick is finding a company that is willing to do it.

“We’re willing to partner with any company that wants to do it, and if we’re passed over this time, we’re going to explore options to do it ourselves,” said Kerk.

Kerk said he’s received a few estimates for what the total cost would be to bring fibre-optic internet to a rural municipality, however he declined to provide the number to BarrieToday, stating that once the consultant completes their work, the group will have an actual dollar figure to share not based on speculation.

“There are also different ways of doing it (that will impact cost), such as using satellite dishes to broadcast internet to remote communities,” he said. “Fibre-optics are the best, though, and I know it will be more expensive than the alternative, but I think if we do this properly and look at this as a business whose beneficiaries are the local community, we can do it effectively.”

If you live in Springwater Township and would like to fill out the survey, click here

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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