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Fibre-based internet very close, says Huron Shores mayor

Huron and Manitoulin community-owned company 'down to dotting 'i's and crossing 't's in plan', awaits agreement with government, stakeholders
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Over the last two years, Municipality of Huron Shores Mayor Georges Bilodeau has attended scores of meetings with community leaders on Manitoulin, the north shore and adjoining portions of Algoma, not to mention with people in Ottawa and Queen's Park.

His bailiwick is a community-based broadband project that covers a large geographical area including 31 municipalities and 12 First Nations.

Mayor Bilodeau is a man on a mission as the Chair of the Huron & Manitoulin Island Community Owned Fibre Infrastructure Corp. He's whipping up support for the company's plan to inaugurate fibre-based internet connections to the over 31,000 homes, businesses and institutions in the region, from Garden River to Nairn Centre, south on Manitoulin Island and north to points north of Elliot Lake and Sault Ste, Marie.

The ask for the first phase is $150 million.

"If we can get 50 per cent of that from ICON (provincial) and UBF (federal), we would like to have the municipalities take in at least 25 percent," said Bilodeau.

Bilodeau likens the current state of broadband service in the north to someone applying six lanes of traffic to a two-lane highway.

It's simply outmoded and overloaded. He argues the north will never get the type of service it needs unless it is based on an entirely new and much larger platform.

He notes we are 10 to 20 years behind southern Ontario in the development of our communication infrastructure. The plan is to build now for the future.

"We intend to provide a gigabit per second connection to a home and up to 25 Gbps for companies and institutions," says Bilodeau. "If the region intends to compete globally, we must have the tools to compete now and into the future and high-speed Internet is that tool."

As planned, the internet connection would come up via the State of Michigan, likely to Sault Ste. Marie. Further south and east, back into Canada, another link would be made to Toronto.

"The numbers are crunched. The federal government has crunched the numbers already. The province has crunched the numbers already. It's a truly feasible financial package that's existing. We are anxious to get the green light from the province and the federal government," Bilodeau went on.

"I can't go into any further details more than that because we have competition out there and we have to be careful."

The company is in the process of completing the application for the Universal Broadband Fund Program through the federal government.

At the same time, they're awaiting feedback for the Ontario provincial ICON Stage 2 Program.

Right now, members of the company's board are contacting educational institutions and just about anybody else who will listen, presenting the corporation and its advantages to the educational system and other interests. Additional letters of support are being solicited.

Needless to say, plenty of work has gone into the final plan to finance the Huron & Manitoulin Island Community Owned Fibre Infrastructure Corp.

Templates range from community ownership to private partnerships. This has generated a number of questions including how much the partners wish to partake in the revenues to be generated if the partners want to invest In order to retain ownership and discussion of possible concerns that the principal owners could take over and take away all revenues from the region, plus how the corporation might leverage a portion of the finances together.

Those financing questions need to be answered soon in light of the fact that both ICON and UBF announcements are due early in April. 

Bilodeau went on, "We've met most of the ministers at the provincial level that are involved and we've met with federal ministers. Carol Hughes (MP Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) has been a very great help to us in opening doors at the federal level; Michael Mantha (MPP Algoma-Manitoulin) also at the provincial level where he was needed, where we had little difficulties opening certain doors.

"In Elliot Lake, Espanola, Manitoulin we're beyond 94 per cent support in terms of support from municipalities and First Nations. 

"We've had our Board Members working diligently. We have Jo Anne Matheson, Douglas Elliott and Dan McCambridge from Elliot Lake. We have Greg Mathieu from the Thessalon area. We are working really, really hard.

"At the engineering level, (Ottawa-based) Rock Networks, Nokia and Corning. They're already at the starting gate and they've already done a lot of legwork so far.

"Now it's just, when we get the agreement, it's just dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's to the specific roads and streets that maybe need a little bit more fibre, or what's the distance on that road to get to these homes there? 

"Or do we get through by tower and microwave, then coming back to the ground to put more fibre in?" he concluded.

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About the Author: Brent Sleightholm

As a reporter, Brent has covered everything from amateur and professional sports, to politics, entertainment, police and courts, to human interest stories and government issues
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