Rural internet gets big bucks

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Calling it a “vote of confidence” politicians are praising funding which could improve Internet service to rural Ontario.

Lambton County Warden Bev MacDougall was in London when the federal and provincial government committed $90 million each to the $281 million project SWIFT project.

The Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus has been pushing for several years to have a plan to bring fibre optic high speed Internet to areas which now have little or no access. The plan was not greeted warmly in Lambton at first because officials said it would take until 2040 for some communities to be connected.

But MacDougall says the plan is now for each community to pinpoint where the gaps in services are, work with private companies who will be willing to invest in the project and get the infrastructure in the ground.

“ I believe we, in Lambton County, have fewer gaps and a stronger back bone than some of the more rural counties,” she says. “We’re going to have this in here long before that far away date. People won’t have to wait until that 2039 date.”

She believes private companies will be willing to step forward to invest. “If there is money to be had,  if you’re a smart business person, you’re going to invest some of your own money and…help fill in the gaps.”

Lambton County has already set aside $1 million – which will be paid over five years – although councillors have yet to formally approve Lambton’s involvement in the project. “County council will have to give their final blessing to the utilization of the money into the SWIFT program,” says MacDougall.

But she believes now that the federal and provincial governments are behind the plan, the vote “stands a good chance… to fully engage ourselves in the SWIFT project.”

Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad is interested to see SWIFT’s business plan.

The municipality has been working with private contractors to provide basic service to black areas around Shetland and Florence, but says it hasn’t solved all of the problems. “It’s a start as long as we can get something started that within 20 years we can see us all benefitting from it,” he says.

“As long as it gets to rural Ontario that’s what its designed for; as long as it can do that,  even though I may not be the first on the list… it’s a start.”

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