Funding provided by governments for Huron Shore and Manitoulin Community Owned Fibre Infrastructure

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IRON BRIDGE—Huron Shores and Manitoulin Community Owned Fibre Infrastructure Corporation (H&M COFI) has been awarded funding up to $91,077,421 through two government programs, Ontario’s Improving Connectivity for Ontario (ICON) program as well as the Government of Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). The funding for this program is part of a larger commitment announced by both levels of government, totaling $170 million. 

“We’re in, we’ve got the approval, as announced by federal and provincial ministers today,” stated Georges Bilodeau, mayor of Huron Shores and chairperson of H&M COFI on Friday.  “Our project has been accepted by both governments.” 

“With other projects as well, a total of $170 million is being provided,” said Mr. Bilodeau. He noted that, “originally our project had been slated at $150 million for the Huron Shore, Manitoulin Island and North Shore areas. We had requested government funding of $75 million and they have provided up to $91 million.” 

With this funding, H&M COFI will partner with ROCK Networks to build a broadband network that will bring reliable and affordable high-speed internet to all underserved residents and businesses in the region.

Mr. Bilodeau noted that for the Manitoulin area, Whitefish River is a partner in H&M COFI as is Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, and some other municipalities on Manitoulin Island. The Northeast Town has chosen to opt out. 

Michael Groh of ROCK Networks said the amount of funding to be provided by other municipalities, First Nations and organizations has to be discussed with each of them. Customers will have the opportunity to be able to get fibre infrastructure, however, those that don’t become partners in the project will not get the potential revenues from being a participating partner. 

“Everyone has a decision to make now,” said Mr. Groh. “But the big takeaway today is that the provincial and federal government has made a major investment in broadband internet in Northern Ontario.”

“We are thrilled to have been awarded funding that will bring vital high-speed internet to rural communities that are unserved or underserved. Residents, businesses and institutions will have access to speeds greater than 1 Gbps which is currently available in urban centres,” said Mr. Bilodeau. “The intent of a community-owned network is that profits generated in the operation of H&M COFI will be returned to investing communities.” 

“We are excited to join with H&M COFI to bring their vision to reality by constructing a future-proof open access network infrastructure,” said Joe Hickey, president and CEO of ROCK Networks.

Once the network is constructed, consumers can buy internet services from internet service providers (ISPs) using the H&M COFI Network. ISPs will pay a wholesale or floor rate to H&M COFI for the internet access they sell, allowing for many ISPs to offer assorted services to consumers. The intent is that profits generated in the operation of H&M COFI will be returned to the community.

Mr. Groh said it will take a couple of months to design the system, and something may be in place by later this fall, “but I suspect it will be next spring before anything is in place.”

Several provincial and federal ministers outlined the funding being provided last week. Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano said all projects must be done by March 31, 2024.

Included in the funding announcement, up to $91,077,421 for this project are Assiginack, Aundeck-Omni-Kaning First Nations, Baldwin, Billings, Blind River, Bruce Mines, Burpee and Mills, Central Manitoulin, Elliot Lake, Espanola, Gordon/Barrie Island, Gore Bay, Hilton, Hilton Beach, Huron Shores, Jocelyn, Johnson, Laird, M’Chigeeng First Nation, Macdonald, Meredith and Aberdeen Additional, Mississauga First Nation, Nairn and Hyman, Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, Plummer Additional, Sables-Spanish Rivers, Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation, Serpent River First Nation, Sheguiandah First Nation, Sheshegwaning First Nation, Spanish, St. Joseph, Tarbutt and Tarbutt Additional, Tehkummah, the North Shore, Thessalon, Thessalon First Nation, Whitefish River First Nation, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation.