Local Internet providers want Lambton to subsidize fiber optic service to rural areas

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Lambton’s private telecom companies is asking the county to help subsidize Internet to rural homes.

Jim Janssens of Brooke-Telecom in Inwood is part of a group of independent operators who have been voicing concern about a southwestern Ontario project to bring fiber optic Internet to the region.

The initiative, dubbed SWIFT, will cost about $250 million to being building the fiber optic hub. It relies on municipalities contributing cash for the project and getting grants from the federal and provincial governments. Lambton County has been asked to pay almost $1 million over five years.

But county councillors have been waiting to hear what the local independent operators can offer and have set aside the money waiting for their answer.

Janssens says the independents recently submitted their plan to the county which he says asks the county to help “fund the last mile build; fiber optics from the equipment already in place to each individual home.”

Janssens says the first phase of the SWIFT project is about connecting Lambton’s municipalities with a fiber optic network. He says that system is already in place. “SWIFT’s plan doesn’t benefit a single rural resident or business,” he says adding the SWIFT plan would be a complete duplication of services in Lambton County.

The independent’s plan “is targeting where the money actually needs to be spent. It doesn’t need to be spent on a regional access network.”

Janssens says independent operators haven’t been delivering service to the areas which need it most because it is expensive.

Janssens says they can spend up to $2,500 per home and eventually recuperate their money. To bring fiber optic Internet to some rural areas could cost as much as $8,000 per home.

The independents want the county to help subsidize that cost. The group is suggesting there be an analysis of the areas where there is little or no Internet access. “We’re not even talking about a small town – out in the rural areas, because that’s where the need is,” he says.

”That’s where we need the funding because we have no business case…when our costs are $8,000 per home.”

A board of governors – which would include local politicians – would look where the need was greatest and choose areas to extend service. The projects would be small enough, says Janssens that independent operators could also bid on them.

The amount done per year would depend on how much subsidy money was available from the county or other levels of government.

“Admittedly it is a huge cost,” says Janssens saying it would take over a billion dollars in the end to connect everyone to the highest level of Internet service. But he says the independents can work to provide service to the areas which need it first – areas without any service now.

County council is expected to view the independent operators plans at its next meeting. But before that, the group will meet with SWIFT representatives to “figure out our differences and come to some sort of compromise,” says Janssens.

“We’re not that optimistic at this point,” he says of the Aug. 14 meeting. “We are willing to sit down at the table and listen to them but up until this point they have not seen what were trying to build.”

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