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Getting broadband Internet to rural areas 'critical issue'

Evan Nemeth (left) and Erika Rolston (right), economic development officers with the Western Regional Enterprise Network, and Angélique LeBlanc (centre), the Western REN’s chief executive officer, were among those who welcomed the CRTC’s recent announcement regarding broadband Internet.
Evan Nemeth (left) and Erika Rolston (right), economic development officers with the Western Regional Enterprise Network, and Angélique LeBlanc (centre), the Western REN’s chief executive officer, were among those who welcomed the CRTC’s recent announcement regarding broadband Internet.

YARMOUTH -- It was a Christmas gift for rural Canada. That’s how someone described the CRTC’s recent declaration that broadband Internet is a basic telecommunications service.

“It’s just one of the most exciting decisions to come along in quite some time,” said Angélique LeBlanc, CEO of the Western Regional Enterprise Network, which already had been working towards bringing high-speed Internet to places that don’t have it.

 From the start, the Western REN has viewed Internet as essential infrastructure, she said, so the CRTC’s ruling was great news, and it came just a week or so after the federal government announced up to $500 million in funding for rural Internet.

 “We have a lot of people who move to the area and want to set up work from home,” LeBlanc said. “They’re sometimes currently unable to do that ... It continues to be a critical issue for local business and for the economy, and that’s the lens that we’re always looking through.”

Beyond just business, she notes that Internet access – or the lack of it – can be an issue with regard to things like education, health, banking and paying bills.

 The CRTC’s ruling came the week after Ottawa announced it would invest up to $500 million to bring high-speed Internet to 300 rural and remote Canadian communities by 2021.

Erika Rolston, economic development officer (communication lead) with the Western REN, acknowledges that a lot of places are in the same boat as – or worse than – western Nova Scotia as far as rural Internet is concerned.

“Because we are coming at it from a regional perspective,” she said, “we’re hoping that will lean in our favour in getting access to some of those funds.”

The enterprise network has been bringing together municipal leaders in the region to discuss rural Internet, which Rolston says can be complex.

“One of the roles that we’ve played is to help inform them of the various types of technology,” she said, “what’s available, the costs associated with it, the length of time it takes, how adequate it will be over time, because we don’t want to be having this conversation five years down the road.”

Evan Nemeth, economic development officer (research lead) with the Western REN, said they would be looking to put together a request for information and a request for proposals for Internet service providers “to give us some feedback as to what they could do as far as putting in what’s called the fibre Internet backbone, so that’s kind of like the trunk cable that would feed the Internet for the region. And beyond that, the last mile, which is taking that connection from the backbone and getting it to people’s doorsteps.”

Months ago, the enterprise network did an informal call-out to people to test the speed of their Internet service and report the results. Rolston said they could still use more input as they prepare a proposal for the federal government.

The federal application deadline is early March, Nemeth said, “so things have to move fast from this point on. We’re working on it.”

“It’s just one of the most exciting decisions to come along in quite some time,” said Angélique LeBlanc, CEO of the Western Regional Enterprise Network, which already had been working towards bringing high-speed Internet to places that don’t have it.

 From the start, the Western REN has viewed Internet as essential infrastructure, she said, so the CRTC’s ruling was great news, and it came just a week or so after the federal government announced up to $500 million in funding for rural Internet.

 “We have a lot of people who move to the area and want to set up work from home,” LeBlanc said. “They’re sometimes currently unable to do that ... It continues to be a critical issue for local business and for the economy, and that’s the lens that we’re always looking through.”

Beyond just business, she notes that Internet access – or the lack of it – can be an issue with regard to things like education, health, banking and paying bills.

 The CRTC’s ruling came the week after Ottawa announced it would invest up to $500 million to bring high-speed Internet to 300 rural and remote Canadian communities by 2021.

Erika Rolston, economic development officer (communication lead) with the Western REN, acknowledges that a lot of places are in the same boat as – or worse than – western Nova Scotia as far as rural Internet is concerned.

“Because we are coming at it from a regional perspective,” she said, “we’re hoping that will lean in our favour in getting access to some of those funds.”

The enterprise network has been bringing together municipal leaders in the region to discuss rural Internet, which Rolston says can be complex.

“One of the roles that we’ve played is to help inform them of the various types of technology,” she said, “what’s available, the costs associated with it, the length of time it takes, how adequate it will be over time, because we don’t want to be having this conversation five years down the road.”

Evan Nemeth, economic development officer (research lead) with the Western REN, said they would be looking to put together a request for information and a request for proposals for Internet service providers “to give us some feedback as to what they could do as far as putting in what’s called the fibre Internet backbone, so that’s kind of like the trunk cable that would feed the Internet for the region. And beyond that, the last mile, which is taking that connection from the backbone and getting it to people’s doorsteps.”

Months ago, the enterprise network did an informal call-out to people to test the speed of their Internet service and report the results. Rolston said they could still use more input as they prepare a proposal for the federal government.

The federal application deadline is early March, Nemeth said, “so things have to move fast from this point on. We’re working on it.”

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