With an increasing population and more residents working from home, the race is on to get high-speed internet installed across The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM).
“Our objective is to service the entire town with at least 50/10 (megabits per second) broadband service in a reasonable time frame and at affordable cost,” said Rob Potter, deputy mayor of TBM.
To drive the initiative, TBM has launched the Rural Access to Broadband Internet Technology (RABIT) task force.
The task force details its main mandate as undertaking strategic planning, program development, implementation and evaluation of initiatives for opportunities in providing effective, affordable and sustainable broadband internet to the entire TBM.
The task force was launched in late July, has held seven meetings and on Feb. 16, RABIT will be hosting a public information centre to introduce itself to the community.
“The purpose of the meeting is to allow us to introduce the RABIT task force and update the public on what we have been doing so far. I will give a brief introduction and Mayor Soever will give some details about the expectations,” said Potter, who also holds the position of chair of the task force.
The task force will be calling on internet service providers to shed some light on what options are available and what they have to offer TBM.
“Interested companies will introduce themselves and their services to the RABIT committee and indicate their interest in being part of the program. They will be outlining their services and how they might apply them to meet our objectives,” explained Potter.
He adds that the task force currently has half-a-dozen companies who have committed to take part in the meeting.
“As well, we have been contacted by a few people with significant expertise in the field who are interested in serving as advisors,” he continued.
TBM’s RABIT initiative will stretch beyond SWIFT, (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology) the non-profit regional broadband project that was initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus to subsidize the construction of high-speed broadband networks across Southwestern Ontario.
TBM council members have been critical of SWIFT in the past, suggesting the program is just another level of bureaucracy that tends to target projects that are considered to be ‘low hanging fruit’.
“We would like more transparency and accountability. I do not feel well-informed and the more I look into it [SWIFT], the more questions I have. It seems to be another layer of bureaucracy that is spending a lot of money," stated TBM Mayor Alar Soever in a previous interview.
Potter says TBM staff and council have been exploring town-wide broadband strategies outside of SWIFT for more than a year and hope this public information centre is the first step toward creating a practical roadmap to obtain high-speed internet in the municipality.
“We want to identify the players and what they intend to do – whether they're talking about towers or fibre optics, or a hybrid system. There's lots of information out there, we want to know what's available here,” Potter said.
He added that interested members of the public will be invited to submit written questions for the next meeting, as well as any “suggestions, ideas and comments about their particular needs for their home, business, farm, children, etc.”
TBM has also reached out to the neighbouring municipalities of Grey Highlands and Meaford, as well as several other municipalities that have set up similar programs.
“Grey Highlands representatives have attended a couple of meetings and Meaford has also expressed strong interest,” Potter said.
Prior to the public information centre on Feb. 16, TBM encourages interested residents to test their current internet speed and confirm the service that is currently available in their area.