Sweetland Internet project on track

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Dave Waters, MODL&#8217;s economic development officer, has been tasked with helping to coordinate the Sweetland pilot high-speed Internet project.</p>

Technicians will be making their way to residences in the Sweetland area in early September to begin installations of the high-speed Internet service that the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) is piloting.

"Everything from an equipment standpoint and an infrastructure standpoint is either complete, ordered, or on its way. Everything is still expected to be complete by the end of August," MODL's economic development officer, Dave Waters, told LighthouseNOW recently.

The pilot project was one of the ones selected in March by the Nova Scotia government for a portion of the $1.44 million it allocated to what the then business minister, Mark Furey, described as "shovel ready" community projects.

It is just one of the steps the municipality is taking toward developing a long-term strategy to help ensure better Internet service in the rural areas, according to Waters.

MODL is contributing $60,000 toward the project, which is designed to provide high-speed Internet service to approximately 288 homes in the Sweetland area.

The pilot project has MODL working with the private service provider, NCS Network, to install a tower on land it owns in Cookville. The intention is to connect to nearby fibre connections, and beam the signal across to a second tower that will be erected on private, high-elevation land in Sweetland. From there, the signal would be forwarded to homes in the area via radio link.

Residents are being told they will have connection speeds of up to 15 megabits per second (Mbps).

While this is a step above the less than 1.5 Mbps many rural homes currently experience, and some have no Internet service at all, it falls short of speeds the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) has indicated it wants to see.

The CRTC indicated on its website it is targeting broadband Internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads for 90 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

"We expect these targets will be met through a combination of the CRTC funding mechanism, private investments, other government funding, and public-private partnerships," the government regulatory body notes on its website.

Waters emphasized that MODL is still working on an overall strategy to bring high-speed Internet service to the county and the Sweetland project is merely the first step.

To that end, he said that there were still "a few small hurdles to achieve," before the project is up and running, such as power and fibre orders and connections.

However, he added,"We're on par with what we thought we were."

According to Waters, approximately 190 individuals have signed up for the service to date, "which is encouraging."

But he warned the project has its limitations.

"I'll be the first to say that not all of the sign-ups can be connected, because again it is elevation- and distance-dependent."

Waters noted there have been applicants from as far away as Hubbards.

"From a practical standpoint, we're not going to be able to reach Hubbards from a Sweetland tower," he said.

However, since the system has a potential capacity of more than 280 households, there is the opportunity for more people and businesses in the area to apply for the service.

Waters is encouraging country residents to register their interest on the NCS site - http://www.novascotiahighspeedinternet.com/sweetland

"Even if they can't get service from the Sweetland project, it's valuable for them to sign up because when we start to do preliminary evaluations of where we can make improvements, having actual individuals identified makes it that much easier to say, 'Look, we clearly have a need in 'X.' Maybe that's one of the next communities that we need to look at."

In the meantime, the municipality has been working informally with the Municipality of the District of Chester and the Region of Queens to lay the groundwork for a Request For Proposals (RFP) from service providers that might help address the Internet service needs in the three municipal units.

Information from the rural Internet service survey MODL conducted last year will feed into this, said Waters.

While he emphasized there was no formal agreement underpinning any arrangement, he said it is believed collaboration might be more economically efficient than each region trying to tackle its own problem.

Waters was expecting the RFP to go out sometime within the next few weeks.

He noted that information from this, in turn, will help MODL determine its long-term strategy for dealing with poor rural Internet service.

But again he emphasized that MODL itself is not going to be delivering Internet service.

"We've made that clear. We're not in that business. We're in the business of perhaps helping to facilitate, maybe enhance, Internet solutions." said Waters.

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