Central Lambton mayors aren’t sure funding to help improve Internet coverage in southwestern Ontario is going to make a huge difference in their communities.
In late July, both the federal and provincial governments committed $90 million in funding for the SWIFT project – the plan by wardens in southern Ontario to provide the backbone of a fibre optic network for the region. The municipalities would have to kick in the other $90 million.
Lambton county is one of the few regions to fully support the project. County council has yet to commit the $1 million over five years needed for the project. That’s likely to happen next month. And there is a wide range of opinion as to whether the SWIFT project will make a difference in communities such as Florence, Port Lambton and Enniskillen which are virtual Internet dead zones that private companies are unwilling to service because the cost is so high.
Enniskillen Township Mayor Kevin Marriott has yet to be convinced the SWIFT project will help improve access for his residents. The community has been working with TekSavvy to set up a high-speed system with some success. But it has been far from perfect. Marriott would rather see the money promised handed to municipalities to create their own solutions.
“The problem with the whole SWIFT idea is it doesn’t address the last mile… I’m afraid the money is going to get eaten up for fibre optics to places that have Internet now,” says Marriott.
“If people think it’s going to mean fibre optic to every rural community, they have to give their head a shake.”
“If they would divide that money up among municipalities… we could have good quality internet,” he says.
adding the $280 million likely isn’t going to be enough to service everyone.
Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad is more optimistic. His community has also been working with a private company to improve access to Internet in the rural areas. But it has been with limited success. “There are so many projects going on with the Internet providers…Shetland is such a small area…that it is hard to get the Internet companies motivated to get something done when there are so many large projects on the go,” he says. “You can’t blame them for that.”
Broad is hopeful SWIFT will be able to start the ball rolling for rural Ontario. “That final mile…we need to make sure it happens.”
St. Clair Township is going to make sure it is ready. It’s put together an $8 million proposal to provide Internet service along the river. SWIFT, says Mayor Steve Arnold, “is just the bones to get you to the main trunk line, my understanding is they don’t do the last mile; that’s what were concentrating on…It will still be up to local providers to take it to the next step…to get it to the houses.”
Arnold has not been impressed with the plan from the Western Wardens, saying it will take too long to complete the project – the first estimates were 2040. The new plan allows each region to start their own projects and that should mean the project will take less time.
Arnold just doesn’t want to wait. “We’re in a bad enough spot in St. Clair, we have to do something. People are tired of waiting.”
The mayor met with Ontario’s Infrastructure and Development Minister at the Assocociation of Municipalities of Ontario convention this week, to convince him the project is worth funding. He’s also been lobbying with Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu for federal funding.
For now, he’ll watch with interest as the SWIFT project unfolds. “They might cover a bit of rural Ontario …I don’t it’s going to happen the way people think.”