The announcement of high-speed service is a “boon”

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Jeff Wilson says that improvements to broadband and cellular services cannot happen quickly enough.

The province announced Wednesday that it will invest $ 150 million in reliable cellular and broadband services in rural, remote and underserved areas of the province.

But Wilson, who lives on Peninsula Road in North Bay, believes he and his neighbors also need broadband help.

“I have spoken to several people here” and, after a certain point on the road to Trout Lake, “the service is extremely unreliable. ”

Like many others trapped by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson works from home. But due to its location, the only service it currently has is Bell Mobile Internet.

“I was a customer of the satellite (Internet) when I moved here two and a half years ago,” he says. “It was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t believe what I was paying for. It was just terrible. ”

And although Wilson negotiates with Bell on mobile, “I’m still paying way too much.

“Right now, I’m paying $ 60 a month for 20 GB of data,” he says.

“If you work from home, it’s even more frustrating. Internet bills are crazy.

“I apologize for the parents of students taking online courses.”

The $ 150 million announced Wednesday is part of a $ 315 million initiative called Up to Speed: An Action Plan for Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Services.

Susan Church understands Wilson’s frustration.

She is the executive director of Blue Sky Net, whose role is to provide assistance and services to northeastern Ontario to expand broadband in each community “so that we can all be on the right foot.” equality to develop our communities. ”

“We understand,” said Church. “We totally understand. ”

But, she says, “if all the stars line up,” northeastern Ontario could be a big beneficiary of the funding.

“If we get it, it will be good news for the whole region,” she said.

Bad news?

“We are in competition with all the other rural communities in the country.”

She notes that while the top five municipalities in northeastern Ontario have services with an average download speed of 20 megabytes per second, once you leave urban areas, those speeds are less than seven megabytes. .

A Blue Sky Net staff member, she notes, lives in a rural area with poor internet service. This employee was set up with a mobile hub site, which cost $ 200 for two weeks

And the “digital divide,” she says, which has always existed in northern Ontario, has only become more apparent since the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-speed internet, says North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, has long been a concern in the region. Local municipalities have been working with the city to try to solve the problem for years.

The problem, he says, is that private sector ISPs say it makes no economic sense to provide the same level of service to rural and remote areas as large centers.

“This announcement will be a boon if it makes a difference in the region,” said McDonald.

And while more money for more projects would be welcome, he says there is “only a lot of money” at any level of government to meet all needs.

Nipissing MP Vic Fedeli said Wednesday’s funding, as well as that announced last year, could total up to $ 500 million when mobilized with other partners, including the federal government .

Southeast and southwestern Ontario, he says, have benefited from previous funding to improve broadband service, “and now we’re saying northeastern Ontario to participate, improve the quality of life ”by making innovations.

The first submissions will be requested over the summer, said Fedeli, giving candidates time to write and present their plans.

“But it’s not a trip we can do without the authorities. We all deserve the opportunity to be part of the economy of the 21st century. ”

Applicants, including telecommunications companies, municipal governments, First Nations communities and non-profit organizations, will be invited to submit proposals and lend their investment, expertise and experience to improve connectivity in communities from Ontario. The province will fund part of each approved project.

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