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City to develop broadband strategy

Despite big investment planned from Bell, telMax, gaps still exist in rural and industrial areas

The City of Oshawa will develop a broadband strategy to improve connectivity in rural areas and employment lands such as the Stevenson Industrial Park. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The city is enacting a plan to increase its broadband capabilities.

Council approved a staff recommendation that Oshawa develop a broadband strategy.

According to a report provided council, the city’s development services department went through a lengthy study to assess Oshawa’s current broadband standing.

The study states that for Oshawa to remain competitive in the global economy, the city’s “objective should be to become one of Canada’s most technologically advanced communities” by becoming a ‘gigabit city.’

A ‘gigabit city’ defines as a community that establishes high-speed fibre networks capable of upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

As part of the strategy, the following broadband speed targets have been set;

– For small businesses, the targets are download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2022, 500 Mbps by 2028 and 1 Gbps by 2034

– For medium/large businesses, institutional, government and postsecondary institutions, the targets are 1 Gbps by 2022, 10 Gbps by 2034, and 50 Gbps by 2038.

– For residential services, the targets are 50 Mbps (download)/10 Mbps (upload) by 2022, 100 Mbps (download)/25 Mbps (upload) by 2034, and 150 Mbps (download)/50 Mbps (uploaded) by 2038.

 

In 2016, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission declared broadband internet essential in “advanced quality of life and supporting a dynamic economy.”

Over the past year, companies have announced large projects that will improve broadband in Oshawa.

telMAX is currently expanding its fibre-optic network in the city.

Earlier this year, CAO Fredrik Alatalo told The Oshawa Express the company plans to install another 100 km of fibre-optic cable in the area.

The company will offer speeds of up to 1 Gbps soon and higher speeds down the line.

Alatalo added that the company is building its new infrastructure “from scratch.”

In April, Bell Canada announced it plans to invest more than $100 million to bring is pre-eminent technology to the city.

Canada’s largest telecommunications company wants to bring its all-fibre optic network to approximately 60,000 homes and businesses throughout Oshawa.

Bell claims their all-fibre network will provide internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps, both for downloads and uploads, with the capability to ultimately deliver speeds of 40 Gbps and more in the future.

The current highest internet speeds available through Bell in Oshawa is 100 Mbps, but most customers have speeds of 25 Mbps.

Bell will work with the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation (OPUC) in expanding its network.

Together, they will install more than 240 km of new fibre cable underground and on existing poles.

The OPUC’s role goes beyond this partnership.

“While the private sector is stepping forward to improve broadband connectivity and internet services, there are gaps within the community that they will not address. Put simply, the private sector will only invest in new technology and infrastructure where they can make an expected return on their investment,” the staff report reads.

This means certain areas of the city aren’t priorities to the private sector.

Oshawa’s rural communities and certain employment lands, such as the Stevenson Industrial Park, are examples.

However, the OPUC currently has more than 95 km in fibre-optic infrastructure in place across the city.

The corporation is currently assessing options for expanding its network, including a move further north on Simcoe Street South and west along Taunton Road West.

The strategy will also address lackluster internet in Oshawa’s rural communities.

Columbus resident David O’ Keefe recently addressed the lack of service to the hamlet in a letter to the development services committee.

“There are currently no cable or phone lines which would allow us to have access to this basic essential service,” O’ Keefe writes. “Due to this, residents are forced to obtain satellite internet which is costing us hundreds of dollars a month only to provide inconsistent services and limited accessibility.”

O’ Keefe goes on to say this is putting a “financial burden” on residents, while also causing security concerns for those with home alarm systems that require a stable internet connection.

As part of its broadband strategy, the city plans to collaborate with Durham Region to include rural Oshawa as a priority.

The region itself is in the midst of developing a broadband strategy as well, as internet speeds in rural Durham are among the slowest in the Greater Toronto Area.

However, slow speeds are not just an issue for rural neighbourhoods.

In 2017, the City of Oshawa partnered with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority for a pilot project that allows residents and businesses to test their internet speeds for free.

While the city compares favourably with other municipalities in the GTA, staff note the Lakeview neighbourhood is lower than others and “well below” CRTC broadband targets.

“In this area, affordability is one of the major factors affecting residents’ ability to use the internet to its full potential,” the staff report reads.

To combat the so-called “digital divide” in Lakeview, the city is seeking $10 million in funding through the SmartCities Challenge.

The funding application focuses on improvements in Lakeview including increasing internet connectivity while ensuring services are at ‘affordable and sustainable’ prices.

If Oshawa’s becomes a finalist, the city will receive a $250,000 grant to develop a more comprehensive proposal and business plan due by January.

Even if the city does not receive the funding, it is expected some plans will move forward regardless.

Both the Oshawa Downtown BIA and Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the broadband strategy.

“Inadequate access to ultra-high-speed internet is compromising the ability of our community across the city to attract and retain businesses. Over the last several decades, broadband has become a crucial factor for cities to successfully attract and retain business investment,” chamber CEO Nancy Shaw wrote in a letter to council.