NetCentral partnership completes seven-site cellular expansion on Manitoulin

SHEGUIANDAH—Representatives of NetCentral, Rogers, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), the Northeast Town and Island residents gathered last Thursday in Sheguiandah at one of the seven new cellular tower sites servicing Manitoulin to celebrate the completion of the cellular and mobile broadband services expansion project.

Funded by the NOHFC and Rogers, in partnership with NetCentral, the seven new Rogers wireless cell sites in service include: south of Espanola on Highway 6, Little Current, Sheguiandah, Manitowaning and South Baymouth; Mindemoya (Hwys 542 and 551); and on Hwy 540 northwest of M’Chigeeng. The sites provide cellular and high-speed Internet services via Rogers High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) Plus (+) technology.

“I would like to thank everyone for being here this morning,” said Morry Brown, general manager of NetCentral, before introducing special guests including Northern Development Officer Amanda Gunner with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, founding chair of NetCentral Jim Gordon, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin and Shane Kendrick, Derek Bain and Steve Norman of Rogers Communications.

Mr. Brown noted how the event marked a milestone for the Island, expanding wireless services and improving coverage for residents thanks to the partnership between NetCentral, Rogers and the NOHFC.

Mr. Gordon spoke on the history of NetCentral, explaining how the not-for-profit, community-based information and communications technology organization was born.

“In 1995-96 (while serving one of several terms as Sudbury’s mayor) I came to the realization that fiber and cellular towers were the future for the economy of Northern Ontario so I got Sudbury Hydro on board and started speaking with other Northern mayors,” said Mr. Gordon. “We set up a number of non-profits to get cellular and wireless services into rural areas in the North such as NetCentral. We then approached the government about helping close the financial gap between companies like Rogers and Bell.”

He explained that NetCentral was officially established in 1999 as a not for profit corporation by the mayors of Greater Sudbury, Chapleau, Parry Sound, Elliot Lake and the Northeast Town. Since 2000, NetCentral has secured more than $33 million in capital funding and services from the private sector, the Province of Ontario and FedNor to bring advanced telecommunications services and communications infrastructure to Northern Ontario.

In June of 2011, the NOHFC board of directors approved $6.98 million in funding for two NetCentral projects to install seven cellular and mobile broadband sites on Highway 6 and Manitoulin and seven sites on Highway 11 (Temagami), Highway 63 and Highway 64. NetCentral also secured funding commitments of $3.3 million from Rogers.

Ms. Gunner brought greetings from Michael Gravelle, minister of Northern Development and Mines and chair of the NOHFC, who sent his regrets for not being present for the event.

“I am pleased that, by the NOHFC partnering with NetCentral, our government is helping countless residents, businesses, visitors and motorists on Manitoulin Island and along nearby highways have improved access to cellular and wireless Internet services,” Minister Gravelle said in a press release.

“There has been a lot of work done to bring this expansion in services to Manitoulin and we are very grateful,” said Mayor MacNevin. “We are fortunate to see this success and it will bring improved cellular and wireless high speed services to residents, students, visitors and businesses. Thank you.”

Mr. Brown was also pleased to share that NetCentral has submitted applications to the NOHFC and FedNor to complete the expansion of cellular and wireless broadband services to Central and Western Manitoulin. He explained that the company has secured funding commitments from Rogers and Bell to construct four towers to service Highways 551, 542 and 540 and communities including Providence Bay, Evansville, Sheshegwaning First Nation, Zhiibaahassing First Nation and Meldrum Bay.

“If we are successful with our funding applications, we will be able to provide complete coverage across Manitoulin,” concluded Mr. Brown. “We expect to know in the near future.”