Billings leading the drive to improve Island Internet

On behalf of all municipalities

TORONTO—A contingent of Billings Township representatives met with two provincial ministers on Monday, imploring them to understand that Manitoulin, as a whole, is in desperate need of high speed Internet and asking the province to provide the funds necessary to change this status quo.

Billings councillor Barb Erskine led the group (comprised of herself, Billings Mayor Austin Hunt, fellow councillor Brian Parker and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha) to two meetings Monday during the annual Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA)/Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, the first with Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle, the second with Minister of Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli. The Manitoulin Municipal Association had given the Billings group its blessing before the annual conference to speak on behalf of all Island municipalities on this topic.

“They were very warm and congenial,” Councillor Erskine said of the meeting with Minister Gravelle and his staff.

The group gave a presentation to the minister on the low broadband speed and unreliable service found across Manitoulin and the very high costs associated with “some pretty minimal services,” Councillor Erskine told The Expositor in a Monday evening interview.

“I think they liked the idea that we were working together as a group and through Blue Sky Net (a corporation that facilitates the development of information communications technology projects, like broadband Internet, throughout Northern Ontario. It counts LAMBAC’s executive director Mike Addison as a board member), which has reached out to municipalities, looking for data,” she added.

“The standard that the federal government has set is five megabits per second (Mbps),” Councillor Erskine continued. “That’s obsolete, you can’t do much with 5 Mbps.”

Late last year, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) declared high speed Internet a basic service and recommended to a minimum 50 Mbps download speed.

“I asked the minister to please support us in this,” Councillor Erskine said. She left the meeting feeling hopeful, she added.

The afternoon meeting with Minister Chiarelli wasn’t as bright, she admitted. “He basically said the cupboard is bare, there’s nothing we can do.”

“We need to push forward as a group—it’s going to be a bit of a haul,” Councillor Erskine said.

“I see the needs all around me,” the councillor continued. “It’s Manitoulin, not the biggest area in the province, but together we can push forward.”

Councillor Erskine said she and Councillor Parker will report back to the MMA at its next meeting and determine the next steps from there.