Norfolk County is on the leading edge of a major infrastructure initiative that will bring high-speed Internet to rural areas of Southwestern Ontario.
Norfolk has been tapped as the pilot project for the establishment of fibre-optic trunk lines and related infrastructure as part of the $190-million South-Western Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative.
“The project aims to spark the beginning of a digital transformation in the region,” Mitch Twolan, vice chair of the SWIFT board of directors, said in a news release.
“The targeted project is an important step in SWIFT’s larger regional deployment plan as it will enable us to leverage key (findings) to ensure maximum success throughout the initiative.”
Norfolk was one of 15 rural municipalities in southern Ontario that came together three years ago to establish the SWIFT initiative.
SWIFT was convened in response to the growing digital divide between internet and cellphone service in urban areas as compared to rural areas. Rural municipalities like Norfolk worried that people would leave and investment would pass them by due to substandard digital services.
Ottawa and Queen’s Park were quickly aboard with funding commitments. The SWIFT board of directors has since approved a list of qualified service providers who will bid on the work in Norfolk this fall “and who will provide the most efficient and effective network designs to address connectivity challenges within the local area,” the SWIFT announcement says.
Network construction in Norfolk will begin once the procurement process is complete and the successful contractors selected. The budget for the work locally has been set at $8.4 million.
This is the second major funding announcement in Norfolk involving SWIFT.
On May 23, local MPP Toby Barrett and members of the Ford cabinet announced $63.7 million in funding toward the SWIFT initiative at a media event in downtown Simcoe.
“For years, I’ve heard people in our area complaining about poor internet service,” Barrett said. “Today, we’re doing something about it. This is going to help individuals, families, farmers and businesses.”
Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele is Norfolk’s appointee to the SWIFT board of directors.
At the May 23 event, Masschaele said SWIFT has concluded that – among member municipalities — the need for high-speed internet is greatest in Norfolk. That assessment, Masschaele added, is based on population, miles of road, and areas where wireless signals do not penetrate.
That outcome is not surprising. Local officials and internet service providers have known for years that Norfolk’s thick forest cover makes it virtually impossible to provide reliable wireless signals in large sections of the county. The only remedy at this point is direct delivery of digital signals via in-ground fibre-optics.