Mark Halwa

RDCK hears broadband pitch

The successor to the Columbia Mountain Open Network is hoping to provide faster Internet for local governments.

The successor to the Columbia Mountain Open Network is hoping to provide faster Internet access for local governments and potentially improve wireless access in rural areas.

Mark Halwa, chief operating officer of the recently-formed Columbia Basin Broadband Corp., a Columbia Basin Trust subsidiary, says while the contracts aren’t ready to sign, several local municipalities have indicated they’re interested.

“We probably have enough right now to get us a long ways towards self-sufficiency, which is pretty good because we’ve been doing this for less than a year,” he said following a presentation to the Regional District of Central Kootenay last month.

Halwa said their goal is to “bridge the digital divide” between urban and rural areas. To that end, they’ll string high-speed fibreoptic cable to every municipal office that wants it, providing speeds not normally seen in areas with our population.

For a monthly fee — $750 to $1,500 depending on their size — municipalities would enjoy unlimited use of a 100 megabits per second connection, compared to present speeds of two to five megabits. They could also save money by sharing services like data backup, email, and financial systems.

Halwa said they aren’t trying to connect homes and businesses, but municipalities can extend the network if they wish.

It could also be a boon for wireless access in remote communities.

“Wireless providers don’t always get a very strong signal,” Halwa said. “If we can give them something 25 or 50 times faster than they’re using, that ultimately trickles down to the customer — not trickles, but flows — and gives them much better connectivity.”

Halwa said they have agreements with Telus and Shaw and have met with local service providers to talk about teaming up as well.

“It makes perfect business sense to share some of the expenses and not have all the duplication. That’s why we have the digital divide: you have to make the same investment, but there are so many fewer residents to divide the expenses among.”

Columbia Basin Broadband Corp. was formed to acquire and manage the assets of the now-defunct Columbia Mountain Open Network, including 70 km of fibre installed several years ago.

This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on July 12.

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