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Building connected communities: the partnership between private and public sectors

Highspeed broadband is the modern-day railroad, critical to the success of our rural communities 

Young woman working on her laptop while on her cellphone

The pandemic has significantly shifted consumer behaviour and droves of people are now working from home. The need to have a strong, fast and reliable broadband connection is now more apparent than ever.  

This was the topic of discussion on an expert panel hosted by MISA Ontario on the importance of connected communities and how private and government organizations can work together to build such communities. The panel included experts in connectivity technology, public sector infrastructure needs and rural connectivity.   

EORN (Eastern Ontario Regional Network) has been at the heart of connected communities since it was established in 2006. As a non-profit organization they are dedicated to improving rural connectivity, supporting economic growth and enhancing quality of life for Eastern Ontario municipalities. David Fell, EORN CEO argued that broadband connectivity has been the primary factor stifling economic growth and quality of life in the region.  

“For us it has really been an evidence-based approach, looking at the economic impact and the market failure problem” said Fell. As a result, EORN has worked with municipalities to pool resources and stimulate private sector investment in order to help build the infrastructure needed for connected communities.  

The economic impact of connected communities can have a wide ripple effect, from increasing property values to encouraging more people to stay and work in rural communities. “It only takes a pandemic to highlight why connectivity is important,” said Paul Howarth Senior Director of 5G Business Development at Rogers, noting that today everything from schooling to health and safety relies on a strong broadband connection.  

Discussing the roles that different organizations play in building connected communities, the panel which also included Steven VanBinsbergen, Director Ontario Public Sector at Rogers advocated for a joint effort between the private and public sectors. For projects to be successful, it is important for both government officials and private sector executives to understand and engage with the specific connectivity needs of each municipality. 

Fell went on to add that “it is important to have a vision for the future.” In 2009 and 10, when EORN proposed 10Mbps down and 1.5Mbps upload speeds many thought that it was too much. Now, working from home, trying to educate children and participate in the economy make needing, 1Gbps download speeds not unreasonable.  VanBinsbergen and Howarth both agree, noting that having a structured vision for the future is key to ensuring that communities have their broadband needs met.  

But how long will this take? Fell noted the Federal Government hopes to connect 99% of the population by 2030, but added “we think it can be done in five to six years.” Howarth agrees it is a reasonable time frame, but notes there are other limitations other than construction—such as permits and resourcing land. He goes on to add that this is where municipalities can assist. He believes with that with the help of municipalities we can expedite the process through support in the permit process, land resourcing and securing connectivity infrastructure to municipal owned properties.  

The panel also noted the importance of competition and having a variety of “channels” to offer people access to highspeed broadband. Fell noted that, “we need to have layers of connectivity,” whether it is satellite internet, 5G or free public Wi-Fi. Howarth agrees saying, “we need a set of tools and use the right tool for the job.” He too believes a mixture of channels will provide effective connectivity in communities, but this relies on the advancement and creation of reliable technology.  

An expert on 5G and its development in rural communities, Howarth believes that 5G can meet those mobile broadband needs. For fixed connectivity, however, Howarth feels 5G is “not there yet.” This is primarily because of the current lack of fixed network devices able to operate on a 5G network. Nevertheless, he is confident that 5G is the future with more manufacturers offering 5G connected devices later this year and into the future.  

VanBinsbergen describes broadband connectivity as the “modern day railroad” and sees it as a key factor in helping communities thrive and grow. With Ontario and Canada making large investments into infrastructure and connected communities there is no better time than now to start working with government and private partners to get our communities connected.  

Click here to find out how the global pandemic is accelerating technology adoption in municipalities. 


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