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Region considering its role in tech future

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

As the scope of technology grows, internet speeds will continue to increase while the importance of this luxury expands as well.

“The importance of access to broadband [internet] is on the rise,” Brad Anderson, principal planner for Durham Region remarked during a presentation at the latest committee of the whole meeting.

Anderson was updating council on the first phase of the Durham Region Broadband Strategy being undertaken to identify current network conditions and the needs of residents, businesses and government agencies, and to determine the region’s role in increasing internet connectivity.

The first phase of the strategy is now complete.

Anderson says broadband availablity is a mixed bag across the region.

While communities on Lake Ontario, like Oshawa, have access to higher speeds, areas in the north of the region maintain some of the lowest speeds in the entire Greater Toronto Area.

A staff report notes “broadband services are generally available from at least one (Internet Service Provider) within Durham’s urban residential areas at speeds that attain or exceed the target for households and businesses set out by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) [of] download speeds of 50 mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 10 mbps.”

Regional staff has set target levels of 100 mbps and 25 mbps by 2023, and 150 mbps and 50 mbps by 2029 .

Targeted speeds for medium and large businesses, government and post-secondary institutions are much higher with current targets of one gigabit per second for downloads and uploads, growing to 50 GB per second for 2029.

Businesses are struggling to meet demands needed in today’s age, according to the report.

In contrast to residential services, businesses are usually expected to cover costs for internet service infrastructure.

Costs can run as high as $30,000 per km of cable, according to Anderson.

“It’s becoming almost insurmountable,” he said.

In fact, there have been business owners who have decided against setting up shop in Durham Region because this issue.

In 2016, the CRTC declared access to broadband Internet as a basic service that should be available to all Canadians.

According to Anderson, it has become an indicator of “quality of life and the economic competitiveness of communities.”

Anderson laid out three potential options for council to consider moving forward.

The first is to continue with the status quo and limit the region’s role by leaving broadband services in the hands of the private market.

Durham also could step into a supportive role by streamlining approval processes, facilitating and coordinating the sharing of information, and establishing policies that support broadband deployment.

The final option is for the region to take a leadership role.

Possible steps include acting as an anchor tenant in key locations, providing direct funding and/or establishing a municipal broadband network.

An example of a municipal broadband network is the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, an initiative started in 2010 involving partnerships with all levels of government and the private sector to service homes and businesses in Eastern Ontario

This network has brought high-speed Internet to at least 95 per cent of the homes and businesses in the area, covering a span of 5,500 km.

Staff is now ready to implement the second phase of the strategy, Anderson says.

Planning staff will further develop any potential roles the region may play.

“Based on the preferred role, an action plan will be implemented and a final strategy delivered by the end of this year,” Anderson says.