NetCentral ramping up Manitoulin cell service with addition of more towers

by Robin Burridge

MANITOULIN—NetCentral community communications network, a not-for-profit community based telecommunications network, is working on a project to install seven new towers on the Island to improve cellular service.

The company has submitted a funding application to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) to expand cellular and mobile broadband services by installing seven towers on Highway 6 and throughout Manitoulin Island.

“During a study, we identified significant service gaps on Manitoulin Island,” explained Morry Brown, general manager for NetCentral.

The project will be a $4.7 capital investment and NetCentral is hoping to secure $3.5 million from NOHFC.

Rogers was selected in 2008 to install the towers through a Request for Proposal and invested $1.2 million in capital for the project. The seven towers will deliver high-speed packet access (HSPA) technology for both cellular telephone and mobile broadband service to Rogers subscribers.

“HSPA technology delivers both Rogers cellular and mobile broadband services which will significantly improve cellular service on Highway 6 and surrounding communities,” explained Mr. Brown in a letter to the Northeast Town council last month. “HSPA provides residents and business with access to mobile broadband for hand held devices such as the iPhone and Blackberry.”

The original proposed sites included Willisville, Whitefish Falls, Manitowaning, Sheguiandah, Wikwemikong and South Baymouth and M’Chigeeng. Recently, however, NetCentral discovered that Bell was planning on installing a tower in Wikwemikong. Mr. Brown noted that the focus of the project is to provide service to areas lacking coverage, therefore, Bell’s tower eliminated the need for the project to place one in Wikwemikong.

NetCentral amended its application to the NOHFC and changed one of the tower locations to the Mindemoya area. This news was well received by the municipality of Central Manitoulin who was upset after being left out of the original project and sent a letter to NetCentral requesting “an explanation of why one of the most populated areas of the Island and one of the fastest growing areas is being left out of the current cellular expansion.”

Mr. Brown stated that, “the letter from Central Manitoulin really helped make us become aware of the need for improved service in the Mindemoya area.”

NetCentral’s proposal will be presented to the NOHFC Board of directors in June and if approved, Rogers will immediately begin engineering studies, determining the final tower sites, and securing property. The proposed building would begin next year and is planned for completion by 2013.

“We are hoping that the board will be supportive,” said Mr. Brown. “The project would help provide significant improvement and aid in communication infrastructure on the Island.”