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Broadband project seeking $4M in funding from Grey County for future phases

SWIFT has asked Grey County to back to request to the federal and provincial governments of $500M for SWIFT 2.0
This map outlines the regions eligible for SWIFT-funded broadband projects across southwestern Ontario.

SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology) is working on funding requests to all levels of government for the second phase of its rural broadband project.

“Once again we are being asked for money for this program that, so far, has underperformed," said Rob Potter, deputy mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM). "We are being asked for more money without any commitment to what they are going to do or any transparency in terms of reporting to us and the people who pay taxes in Grey County."

In early June, SWIFT held a meeting with the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (WOWC) where recommendations for how the next phase of SWIFT - SWIFT 2.0 - should be structured and funded.

“Right now, we are in the last phase of the original funding, so this is looking at where you want to go in the future and talking about the funding streams that are available to us right now,” said Grey County CAO Kim Wingrove at a committee of the whole meeting held earlier today.

“This particular report is looking more to the future and asking whether county council would lend their name to a couple of letters requesting additional funding from the federal entities,” she said.

SWIFT 2.0 sees WOWC pursuing funding for $500 million worth of projects under the SWIFT model.

“The focus would be on fibre installation rather than wireless, and a target of unserved areas to serve at a maximum of medium density areas or about 15 premises/km,” stated Wingrove. “The average density of unserved premises in Grey is 5.4/km.”

In the staff report, Wingrove notes that the federal and provincial governments would be requested to provide $367M, with the municipalities responsible for $50M in project spending and $10M in project administration.

Grey County’s share of project costs and administration fees would total $4,257,565 to install 549 km of fibre for a total project spend of $36,228,263.

In the ask from SWIFT, the corporation is seeking the county’s support to request $500M in SWIFT 2.0 funding, but also that the WOWC request $44M to complete the remaining unfunded SWIFT 1.0 projects, which include $5,873,841 worth of work in Grey County.

Echoing the concerns he raised at previous county and municipal meetings, Alar Soever, mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains, says he is hesitant to approach the provincial and federal governments with an ask for more money when SWIFT has yet to deliver on any projects to date.

“They have collected $14 million and spent $7 million but nothing was spent on projects,” Soever said. “In 2018, they had budgeted $80 million worth of projects and delivered exactly nothing."

Soever also questions where SWIFT plans to install the 549 kms of fibre and who will see the benefits.

According to Wingrove, answers to those kinds of questions will not be known until funding is acquired.

“All of this is contingent on us receiving funding for a program,” she said. “However, we are advocating for what we would be most viable and most useful for our communities.”

As previously reported, Grey County council will be calling on the executive director of SWIFT to provide a delegation to council with more information on the current and future plans for SWIFT.

The TBM council also plans to strike its own SWIFT-related task force at next week’s council meeting.

Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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