Request for high-speed internet subsidies

The MRC Brome-Missisquoi, which comprises 21 municipalities including TBL, will apply to the Quebec and federal governments for subsidies to fund the installation of fibre optics on its territory.

An online survey, in which more than 350 tests were carried out, not counting those who could not participate because their connection was too slow, revealed that “there are coverage gaps throughout the region, particularly in rural, hilly and forested areas. We estimate that some 5,650 homes do not have access to 5/1 megabits/second service,” says Tania Szymanski, rural development advisor for the MRC.

For example, the whole area of Bolton Pass is without coverage. Many other rural sectors are deprived of the coverage that would meet the needs of the population at a cost that compares with services offered in urban areas.

TBL poll – TBL received 889 replies, a 25% response, to a poll of property owners it conducted in February. The same poll showed that 57% of respondents want the town to be involved in improving service by installing fibre optics. “This proves the strong interest in high-speed Internet service,“ according to Caroline Cusson, TBL’s Treasurer, whose responsibilities include information technology. Although the town undertakes to support private companies offering high-speed service on its territory, “we will let Internet Haut-Richelieu apply for government subsidies for the MRC, and then we will see; we won’t be filing our own application,” says Ms. Cusson.

Funding – The project will not be 100% subsidized. Governments will fund the “highway” but not the connection to each home. That part of the funding should come from the MRC or municipalities, and it is too early to say how that will occur and how much it will cost. A mix of different sources will have to be looked at says Ms. Szymanski such as “the amount of the subsidy, some borrowing, a contribution from the MRC.” It will then be up to municipalities to determine how they will pay for this invest- ment, either through taxes or out of their budgets. Of the property owners who responded to the TBL poll, 53% said they were prepared to accept a $50 tax increase for 20 years. At the last Council meeting, Mayor Richard Burcombe stated clearly that the cost of high-speed Internet service would be borne only by those who would benefit from it.

A long way to go – A reply to the funding application is not expected before the end of the summer. Then it will be necessary to negotiate access to Bell and Hydro-Québec infrastructures, one pole at a time! “The council of mayors in the MRC wants an open network offering consumers a choice of providers. Fibre optics has been chosen because it is faster and has no bandwidth limit. It is considered to be the most promising option for the next 10 to 15 years. Relative to the best-served areas, the region will have access at a lower or comparable cost,” adds Ms. Szymanski. But, for all that to happen, we will have to wait at least 18 months.

Translation by Brian McCordick