Broadband Initiatives in Algoma

Broadband Initiatives in Algoma

I came across this article written by Susan George of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre. It's very informative and gives hope for those of us who struggle with internet issues here in rural Algoma. 

If you live in Northern Ontario, or if you’ve had to travel through, you have likely experienced the lack of internet connectivity.

After moving here from Eastern Ontario, I’m still surprised how limited we are with respect to Broadband infrastructure and access to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). I was unfortunately rather naïve about the state of Broadband in Northern Ontario and made the assumption, I would have access to high speed internet similar to what I had in eastern Ontario.

We live approximately 40 kms from Sault Ste Marie along the St. Mary’s River. The only Broadband service available to us is Satellite which we discovered doesn’t work at our location or a Cellular Hub which gives us performance of what I consider one step above Dial Up! With both my husband and I working from home after the pandemic hit in March 2020 – we constantly compete for bandwidth. Just another thing we can argue about now that we spend so much time together! 

The CRTC has established a Basic Service Objective for rural areas within Canada of 25Mbps Download and 5 Mbps Upload speeds (25/5). The urban areas across Canada have the CRTC Basic Service Objective of 50 / 10. Both the provincial and federal funding programs are based on these objectives.

The SSM Innovation Centre (through FedNor) is committed to assisting communities within the Algoma region with their projects for improved Broadband. In my role as the ICT Sector Lead, and since I am experiencing the current state of broadband, I am committed and passionate about improving the situation in the Algoma region. Despite the many government programs to invest in Broadband for Northern Ontario, the situation persists. 

My observations:
• Funding programs require a technology partner (ISP) which are often difficult to find 
• Disbursed and low population base in rural areas of Northern Ontario 
• Lack of adequate broadband infrastructure

• Due to low population, ISPs are not investing in this region as the revenue opportunities are significantly lower than urban areas
• COVID-19 Pandemic created the perfect storm and the impact to unserved or underserved communities is extremely high and for some businesses, catastrophic

So, what are we doing in the Algoma Region to solve these issues? 

Our communities within the Algoma region are resilient, and recognize the need to get creative about our broadband solutions. One of our major success stories is from the Northern Superior Regional Broadband Network (NSRBN) which is made up of 10 communities, (5 are First Nations communities) north of Sault Ste Marie. The NSRBN executed a comprehensive plan to develop a broadband strategy and establish strong partnerships to enable a Community Owned Network that will generate revenue for the member communities. The NSRBN are currently awaiting news of their CRTC Broadband (Closing the Digital Divide in Canada) Application for funding to support Broadband infrastructure to enable connectivity to the residents in their communities. We wish them the best of luck in securing this important broadband project.

Another success in the Algoma region was the award of funding from Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks (CENGN) Northern Ontario Residential Rural Broadband Program. SSMIC assisted four communities to develop their Expressions of Interest for Project #2. We are thrilled that the community of Iron Bridge was selected as the recipient for Project # 2 in June 2020, along with the technology partner, Leepfrog Telecom. This funding will enable a Proof of Concept using Leepfrog’s TV Whitespace (TVWS) technology. This technology will enable residents in the Iron Bridge community access to high speed internet (> 50 Mbps Download) and is planned for a September 2020 deployment. It is anticipated that this Proof of Concept will allow other communities in Northern Ontario with similar terrain to leverage this technology and access to high speed broadband services.

The Huron North Community Economic Alliance (HNCEA) is made of 16 member communities along Hwy 17 between Spanish and Sault Ste Marie. This organization has recently established a Broadband Advisory Council and will be developing a Broadband Strategy and recommendations to the HNCEA Board in preparation for the upcoming federal Universal Broadband Fund application. We have excellent representation from private and public sector organizations on the council and are currently pursuing additional representation from member communities.

CENGN has released their Northern Ontario Residential Rural Broadband Program Project # 3 and are seeking Community Expressions of Interest to fund another Proof of Concept project. Communities within the Algoma region are encouraged to submit Expressions of Interest for this funding. Please contact SSMIC and we would be happy to provide support for your application. For more information, please visit CENGN. Note: this funding program closes on Friday, August 21, 2020.

Building strong effective relationships with our Technology partners in Northern Ontario plays an important role in developing our broadband strategy. As the technology partners improve their understanding of the needs of our communities, they in turn, can develop their strategies. In keeping with building relationships, we are thrilled to learn that Bell Canada is planning to submit an application to the Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON) Program to deliver high speed internet services to many residents and businesses in the Algoma Region. If successful, it will provide more households, businesses and other organizations in our region with the broadband access they need to take advantage of digital opportunities, especially with respect to business, education, health and public safety. Stay tuned for future updates on this application and all of our broadband initiatives.

Susan George - ICTN Sector Lead 

Susan is the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Sector Lead for SSMIC and is responsible for growing technology talent, advocating for technology adoption and to provide assistance in improved broadband capabilities in Sault Ste Marie and across the Algoma region.

Susan has 20+ years of experience as a Program Manager in Telecom industry and is thrilled to be a part of SSMIC’s efforts towards technology adoption in Algoma.