Bridging the Divide: Internet in cottage country

(this article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 FOCA Lake Stewards Newsletter)

An update from EORN, Spring 2013: Work to expand high-speed internet access throughout Eastern Ontario is in the final stretch!

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), Ontario’s largest rural broadband project, will be complete by March 2014. A mix of internet technologies, including “Digital Subscriber Line” (DSL or wired) and wireless is being used to expand Internet access in the region, which is 50,000 square kilometres and has a population of nearly one million.

EORN map 2013Already, large swaths of Eastern Ontario’s cottage country have improved access to broadband through a variety of technologies. The quality of wireless internet services has improved greatly through the project’s substantial investment in new infrastructure, including scores of new towers and equipment upgrades.

“The sparse population, lakes and rugged terrain of our region make it a beautiful destination. But these features also mean that we need to use different internet technologies to overcome the challenges,” said Jim Pine, Chief Administrative Officer of Hastings County and co-lead of the project. The EORN project involved construction of a 5,500-km fibre optic backbone, which was completed in late 2012. This included laying 520 kilometres of new cable to connect existing fibre, and building or upgrading 160 access points, where internet service providers can tap into the backbone and deliver high-speed internet to homes and businesses.

Each technology is capable of reaching different communities efficiently:

  • DSL service, for example, requires being located close enough to the fibre optic backbone
  • Wireless service can reach more remote regions, as long as trees or terrain don’t interfere with the radio signal
  • Satellite is the best fit for the most remote regions

So far, infrastructure to improve access has been built in several areas, and service progresses in others (click the map, above, for details). To find out more about when service will be available in your area, visit www.eorn.ca and use the Service Locator tool to find your address.

Another goal of the project is closing the urban-rural price gap. When awarding local access contracts, EORN has placed a high priority on competitive pricing. “EORN awarded competitive bids based on how well ISPs could deliver service to the greatest number of residents,” said Pine. The project is funded by federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as through substantial investment by private sector partners. In fact, the initial $170 million project has grown in value to nearly $260 million once private sector in-kind contributions and service commitments are included.

The entire region can already access improved internet services via satellite, thanks to special prices and packages negotiated with Xplornet Communications Inc., which launched a new 4G satellite network last year, and offers both fixed wireless and satellite service to cottagers, residents and businesses across Ontario. Xplornet now deploys up to 10 Mbps download speeds everywhere and has flexible packages with attractive options for seasonal customers. Satellite may continue to be the technology that best serves remote areas or difficult terrain within all EORN Zones.

Michelle LewinBridging the Divide: Internet in cottage country