By Ron Giofu
Essex County council is moving ahead with a plan to bring high-speed fibre optic Internet to the area but it is clear many council members still have questions.
County council agreed to participate in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to the tune of $1.1 million, with over $660,000 due this year. However, the county did not waive its right to a refundable portion – which amounts to roughly $700,000 of the $1.1 million – for the time being as more information is being sought.
SWIFT is an initiative of the Western Wardens’ Caucus and would bring high-speed fibre optic Internet to southwestern Ontario including the Niagara region and the Caledon area.
Geoff Hogan, executive director with SWIFT, noted about $180 million of the $288 million cost will come from federal and provincial governments with $90 million anticipated from the private sector. The municipal share is expected to be at $18 million.
SWIFT officials target May 12 for the pre-qualification process to be released with the actual RFP to be issued in October with the latter to close in the second or third quarter of 2018. Construction of phase one is anticipated from 2018-22.
“Our fibre optic network will have plenty of capacity to connect people along the route,” said Hogan.
County CAO Brian Gregg said they understand that critics of SWIFT say it “isn’t swift enough” and said they could move faster if the refundable portions were to be reinvested back into the SWIFT project, however members of county council wanted more numbers.
Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said he wanted to see the results of the RFP before agreeing to defer any refund, saying they would reinvest anyway to fill gaps in the region. Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen was concerned that this area might not see any benefits for upwards of two decades, saying people are being asked to “make a commitment that could be 20 years out” with other concerns that it is unsure whether they are going to get “the bang for their buck.”
Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo also voiced concerns, stating he wanted a stronger commitment from the private sector as it pertains to connecting the Internet to people’s homes. Cost was another concern for DiCarlo, adding it wasn’t guaranteed that in 20 years there wouldn’t just be nodes that weren’t connected to people’s homes.
Hogan said there is a strong partnership as it is with the private sector and that they will live up “to what we ask for.”
Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara believed it was premature to waive the refund at this stage, noting the cost.
“It’s almost ‘trust us – give us your money and you will get the end result’,” said McNamara.
Gregg said there are already funds set aside the budget with funds also allocated in the 2015 and 2016 budgets.
Leamington Mayor John Paterson asked where it would start, and was told around the Toronto, Guelph and Barrie areas but DiCarlo wondered why some work wouldn’t start in this area as well, believing infrastructure already exists. Hogan replied that the way the network is set up, they have to start at the other end of the project work area.