Need for speed
Only recently has Greg Duquette been been able to access high-speed Internet at his Ramara Township home.
"I've been living in a gap area. It's been a nightmare," said the Val Harbour man, who has been wanting high-speed Internet for years.
In the past couple of months, Duquette has been able to get high-speed service through Bell.
"You can get it here now with a limited bandwidth. I pay $50 a month for three gigabytes. It's not as good as in (Orillia), but I'm happy to have it," he said.
A new tower built between Val Harbour and Casino Rama has improved the service to the point he can get Internet 90% of the time, he said.
That's a big improvement from before the tower was installed, when he could only get service about 10% of the time. Duquette uses a router and said his neighbour also uses an outdoor antenna to boost the signal.
Pamela McLean, owner of Pam's Workwear on Highway 12 in Uptergrove, would also like to have high-speed Internet.
"I wish I had it. We have a lot of inventory. I'd like to advertise on the Internet so we could make some more sales," she said.
The west side of Highway 12 in Ramara, the eastern part of Ramara near Monck Road, and the area east of Highway 400 and south of Horseshoe Valley Road are pockets in Simcoe County currently without high-speed service.
However, areas in Simcoe County without high-speed Internet are becoming fewer and fewer, and more gaps will be closed by the fall, said Brian Smith, the county's director of information technology.
The county's $1-million Rural Connections program is entering its third and final phase. In its first and second stages, it brought broadband connections to about 2,000 additional residents.
The first two phases resulted in multiple towers being built across the county to close these gaps, Smith said. The bulk are in Tiny Township to provide coverage to the northwestern part of the township, he said. Tiny Township secured $688,167 in grants from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) last February to install new communications towers in areas that had no service.
Ramara is a partner with Tiny, as are Oro-Medonte and Essa townships. Each of the municipalities pitched in $5,000 toward the project, with approved vendors Point to Point Broadband Inc. and RuralWave covering the remaining costs.
The third phase is awaiting approval of its revised technical design with OMAFRA and will focus on filling gap areas in Oro-Medonte, Ramara and Tiny townships.
"That approval is expected shortly and construction will take place this summer and the program is wrapping up in the fall," Smith said.
According to Bell Aliant, the communications technology WiMAX is available to 90% of the county.
One new tower will be installed near the KOA campground near Craighurst, said Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes.
A new tower is being built privately at Highway 11 and Oro-Medonte Line 3 that will offer high-speed Internet and cable TV on a wireless network. The building is in place and the tower is going up soon, Hughes said.
"The importance of high-speed Internet cannot be underestimated," he said. "The Internet is now as important as our roads are. There are so many people relying on it, not just for personal business, but home-based businesses and students doing online courses for college and university."
Bringing high-speed Internet to Oro-Medonte is a priority in the township's strategic plan.
Some areas will be without high-speed Internet into 2013.
"More remote areas and where it's hilly and heavily forested are impeding the high-speed Internet," Hughes said.
Land in the Oro Moraine area to Lake Simcoe is also a difficult pocket to fill, he said.
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission has recently made more bandwidth in the 700-megahertz part of the spectrum available for operators to bid on, said Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton. The government is not allowing larger companies, like Rogers, Bell and Telus, to take all the bandwidth.
The government regulates air space and "favours competition and will try to prevent large monopolies that tend to restrict or limit growth and improvement to quality of service and price," Stanton said.
"The government favours the smaller companies and rurally owned companies to have access to the bandwidth with a view to improve rural broadband service."
Bringing high-speed Internet to rural areas is important to the government, he said.
"For us today, it's like what the telephone was 100 years ago. In this day and age, you have to have high-speed Internet connection. It's essential for municipalities to attract investment and new businesses," Stanton said, adding it allows for more people to work from home, resulting in savings on gas and other travel expenses. "Once the Internet backbone is up, more customers can tap in and the operation costs for the customers come down."