“Largest infrastructure project to date” says warden – Rural internet expands

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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC – Upper Pontiac residents may have seen Bell Canada employees and equipment in the area lately as the company installs broadband fibre as part of an over $6.5 million investment announced in June 2018. The company is currently working to connect about 560 residences and businesses in L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, Chichester, Sheenboro and Waltham.
In 2018, the provincial and federal governments each invested about $2 million, with an additional $2.6 million from Telebec and Bell Canada, for a total of $6,635,075 to connect 16 Pontiac communities and 1,425 households to high speed; Luskville (Plage-Baie-Noire), Norway Bay, Sand Bay, Portage-du-Fort, Ladysmith, Chapeau, Low, Cawood, Cayamant, Thorne, Bristol, Waltham, Chichester, Sheenboro, Rapides-des-Joachims, and Denholm. This work will be completed by March 2021.
However, Connexion Fibre Picanoc (CFP) and Déry Télécom are in the process of submitting a joint project to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) $750 million Broadband Fund to further connect underserved residences throughout the MRC la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and MRC Pontiac to fibre optic high speed internet. CFP commissioned a characterization study to identify underserved residences in the two MRCs in March 2019.
According to Jane Toller, MRC Pontiac warden, this proposal has been in the works for over two years and began when she and other MRC employees learned of what other MRCs had done to expand internet in their regions during a Fédération québécoise des municipalités (FQM) meeting. The MRC was referred to a consultant to help with the proposal; he has experience helping other MRCs with similar projects.
Connexion Fibre Picanoc was created in 2005 by the MRC Pontiac and MRC Vallée-de-la-Gatineau in partnership with the local school boards to connect municipalities, schools, libraries, and fire halls to fibre optic. CFP then created Réseau Picanoc.net with a private partner to bring high-speed service
to approximately 2,000 households in the two MRCs.
Toller explained that as a member of CFP, the MRC Pontiac would benefit
from the proposed project’s revenues if approved; funds would be used to advance some of the MRC’s major projects, she said.
The MRC Pontiac resolved to support the project during its Council of Mayors meeting in March given the project’s economic and social spin-offs for
the region: attracting and retaining investors and residents, improving safety, etc.
The deadline for applications is June 1 and more details will be available about the project application when it’s closer to completion and officially tabled at the end of May.
According to Pontiac MP Will Amos, the $750 million fund was created through contributions from telecommunications companies according to their share of the market. He cautioned that the Pontiac’s application will be competing with those from across the country; approvals, decided entirely by the CRTC, will likely be based on the number of people to be impacted, the cost, and
how much applicants are willing to contribute themselves. Amos expects project approvals will be announced this year.
“I’m as impatient as anyone else. Rural Pontiac needed high speed internet yesterday and COVID-19 amplifies that. People working from home, online shopping, buying groceries, applying for benefits – these are all essential needs right now,” said Amos. “There’s no magic solution. The government is investing
billions of dollars, but so much more is needed. I’m advocating for more
funding and faster implementation,” he added.
Toller is optimistic. “I think we have an excellent chance because it’s an excellent proposal that came about from working with a good consultant who helped other regions succeed,” she concluded, noting that while specifics are currently unavailable, the goal is to “connect everyone.”