High-speed Internet advocate making headway

Sharon Chaulk, a resident of Highway 3 west of Delhi, has shared a progress report on her drive to bring high-speed Internet to underserviced areas of her neighbourhood. File photo

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An advocate for high-speed Internet between Delhi and Courtland has some positive news to share with her neighbours.

Sharon Chaulk, who lives on Highway 3 west of Delhi, has been in touch with executive members of the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative, which is preparing to accelerate the installation of high-speed internet in under-serviced areas of southern Ontario.

Earlier this year, SWIFT announced $8.3 million for a pilot project in Norfolk County. On July 25, SWIFT told Chaulk the under-serviced area between Delhi and Courtland is “eligible” for funding.

In an email, SWIFT COO Barry Field said his office issued requests-for-proposals for the Norfolk project on July 26. Qualified service providers have two months to design their networks, develop their proposals, and present them to SWIFT.

“We will then complete our evaluation of the proposals and will focus on which proposals result in the best outcomes,” Field said in an email.

“Generally, ‘best outcomes’ means more homes passed and more fibre installed. We anticipate being able to announce projects in mid- to late-October if all goes as planned.”

SWIFT offers no guarantees. However, Field said: “I can say that we’ve designed the request-for-proposals in such a way to allow smaller service providers to submit proposals for ‘micro projects’ that would allow them to target smaller areas that have been passed over in previous network build-outs.

“This is in contrast to simply providing all of the money to a single large provider that would most likely construct in a larger area that has more potential customers,” Field added.

Chaulk also has taken her case to Execulink Telecom, the high-speed service provider in Delhi that has already extended this service into a number of hamlets and rural areas in Norfolk. On July 17 in Woodstock, Chaulk met with outside operations manager Jeff Soetemans, marketing manager Nicole Paterson and Andrea Atkinson, vice-president of customer service.

“I presented our case to the team – the signatures, the petition, examples of emails from those affected, a map outlining the areas in which we would like to see the service installed,” Chaulk said in an email.

“I represented everyone in my community and voiced our concerns and asked them if this was something they would be able to implement either in its entirety or a fraction.

“I was told the cost to install per metre outweighs the return on investment. They install this service in populated areas where the return on investment is visible in a short period of time.”

Chaulk has collected 118 signatures on a petition.

She and her neighbours want Execulink to place fibre-optic cable in an underserviced area spanning about 10-kilometres between Delhi and Courtland. Addresses represented include Middleton Church Road, Rhineland Road, Schafer Sideroad, Fernlea Sideroad, 1st Concession NTR, Talbot Road behind Titan Trailers, as well as Highway 3.

In a recent email to the News Record, Execulink in Woodstock says there are no plans to place fibre-optic cable in this zone because the Ministry of Transport intends to repair this stretch of Highway 3 in 2020. As such, no one — for the time being — is allowed to perform utility work in this corridor. Execulink confirmed their position this week.

“The area between Courtland and Delhi is not on our current implementation plan,” Paterson said.

“It is possible we may consider extending the fibre to the area just outside of Courtland in the future, but we would not consider that until after the MTO construction was completed.

“We would also have to consider what other projects and commitments we have underway at that time. We will be participating in the SWIFT request-for-proposals process for Norfolk County and we recognize that this area does qualify for SWIFT funding.”

Chaulk asked the office of Toby Barrett, MPP for Haldimand and Norfolk, to investigate and see if a work-around is possible.

“I talked to the person at Execulink in the planning department,” a staffer in Barrett’s office said in an email to Chaulk.

“He said the MTO issues you speak of are in the town of Courtland and aren’t an issue in the rural area between Courtland and Delhi. Execulink is just now in the preliminary stages of looking at expansion into this area as one possible scenario under rural Internet expansions. He was aware of your meeting with the company president.”

Barrett’s office goes on to compliment Chaulk for the manner in which she is pursuing the issue.

“After talking to him, I think you are doing the right things to put this area up for consideration for rural Internet expansion,” the email says.