MMA members asked to pen letters supporting enhanced high speed internet proposal

MINDEMOYA – Municipalities and First Nations on Manitoulin Island are being encouraged to support a proposal by Blue Sky Net Economic Growth Corporation that would help enhance wireless high-speed internet broadband services in the area. 

“Anything that we do will be an enhancement to the services being provided. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Mike Addison, a member of the Blue Sky board, told members of the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) at a meeting last week.

Mr. Addison, who is also general manager of Lambac, told the meeting, “Blue Sky Net is an organization mandated to provide internet services to the regions we serve. Blue Sky was established as a not for profit in 2003 and is funded by FedNor. “Its primary objective is to bridge the digital divide between technology and user and to facilitate private and public partnerships that will result in better telecommunications infrastructure and services in the region.”

Mr. Addison pointed out the provincial budget addressed the importance of digital connectivity in fostering economic growth, as the government announced its plan to invest $315 million over the next five years to ensure communities across Ontario have access to critical broadband and cellular connectivity. 

The newly announced broadband and cellular strategy will focus on improving broadband services to underserved areas across Ontario. There is another $1.7 billion federal broadband fund to launch in 2020.

“The federal government has provided a pot of money to improve services for rural areas. And Blue Sky Net will prepare the application on behalf of the of the municipalities and First Nations.”

Mr. Addison pointed to a map provided of areas that are within the Blue Sky Lacloche-Manitoulin area (including all of Manitoulin Island). 

“We all struggle with high-speed internet,” said Mr. Addison. “We’re in a small populated area and there are issues, for example, on geography for the services to be provided. Blue Sky is applying for enhanced high-speed internet within the region. I will be reaching out to all municipalities and First Nations asking for resolutions in support of this. Blue Sky will be putting out a request for proposals to all service providers and then we will make a decision on which provider will put in the service.” 

Blue Sky Net issued a request for proposals on February 3 to establish the successful vendor(s) to upgrade board infrastructure and services to the unserved/underserved areas on Manitoulin Island and communities near and on Highway 6.

The RFP is to close on February 28, but any resolutions received after that date will be included in the Blue Sky package, said Mr. Addison. He also told the group, “Blue Sky is also encouraging everyone to take its internet speed test; they want an indication of what kind of speeds people get in your area, so this can be looked at for enhancement.” 

Those speed tests can be accessed by going to ConnectedNorth.ca.

“We encourage everyone to take the speed tests; the more information they have the better chance of getting funding,” said Mr. Addison. “They are working with both the federal and provincial governments and a regional area working together will have a better chance of being approved than individual applications.” 

“There is $750 million being provided for enhanced internet service through Canada with $315 million being provided for rural Ontario,” said Mr. Addison. Blue Sky Net is getting ready to issue the RFP, and this would include the North Bay East/South, Almaguin North/Parry Sound, Sudbury East/West Nipissing and Manitoulin/LaCloche areas.

There would be no cost to an area that takes part, said Mr. Addison. He noted, “once the service is in place, there would be an individual service fee as there would be for any internet services. 

Al MacNevin asked if Blue Sky is applying for a specific amount of money. 

“I don’t know how much is being applied for in the region alone,” said Mr. Addison.

“The reason I ask is that one area may take up a lot of the funds available in Ontario,” said Mr. MacNevin. 

“How advanced will be the technology be?” asked MMA chair Ken Noland.

“We’re talking wireless internet,” said Mr. Addison. “It would be similar to services now, copper or DSL, or it could be a combination,” said Mr. Addison. And it would be provided to enhance the present services and provide service to more customers.