A Columbia Basin Trust subsidiary wants broadband Internet available within two years to 80 per cent of households in the region who can’t access it now.
“It’s a pretty ambitious goal,” says Rob Gay, who chairs both the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation’s regional committee and the Regional District of East Kootenay. “We want that at an affordable price, although we haven’t defined affordable yet. We see broadband as another service like water or sewer. It’s something residents want.”
Gay says providing broadband (five megabits per second or better) to rural areas is intended to help economic development, stop the outflow of jobs from the region by retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones, and provide greater access to telemedicine and education.
“We won’t get to every rural community. If you’re at the end of a road, satellite may be your only option. But where there are little groups of homes, we’ll be able to provide them with an opportunity.”
Attaining the goal will involve working with existing Internet providers, rather than competing with them, Gay says.
According to a planning document, both non and for-profit providers are “essential partners” in a regional strategy that already counts four regional districts and the Ktunaxa First Nation as partners.
Industry Canada is expected to issue a call for proposals this fall for funding to subsidize broadband networks in rural areas, as it has for several years running.
Gay says Columbia Basin Broadband is available to help local providers prepare a joint proposal that meets the federal government’s expectations and make “strategic investments” such as erecting towers.
In a presentation last week to the Regional District of Central Kootenay, Gay said they will also be mapping areas that lack broadband.
While his group doesn’t object to big telecommunications companies servicing rural areas, in some cases those firms can’t or won’t.
“If they would do it, we wouldn’t be in this business,” he said. “Government doesn’t need to be in this business, but we are because the last mile is very difficult.”
The Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation was created in 2011 to acquire the assets of the now-defunct Columbia Mountain Open Network.