Community network underway in Simcoe

Rural Simcoe County in Ontario needed a technological boost, and now, thanks to a local group and a hand from the provincial government, it has one coming – a new community network.

“It began with Simnet, a group of IT people in Simcoe County, who represent the main verticals of education, health and municipal government,” explained Blair Almond, IT manager for the Town of Collingwood, Ont.

Almond’s involvement with the group began in the spring of last year with the municipal vertical, and from there he said the group looked towards some of the opportunities that were available and what was needed in the county to further IT. What resulted was the Simcoe Community Access Network, or SCAN.

“Geographically we’re very large as a county and as such, almost all of the organizations involved span from one end (of the county) to the other,” Almond said.

If someone needs something on the other side of the county, it is more than a five-minute drive to get it there, so right now the situation is not ideal, he explained.

Some of the municipalities are well set-up, and there are pockets of progressive technology and technology infrastructure, Almond said, but there are a lot of have-not communities as well.

There is existing high-speed fibre backbone through the city of Barrie, up to Orillia. Residents in those cities, as well as in Alliston, Midhurst, and Tottenham, will have access to this backbone and will connect their last mile through bandwidth facilities at T-1 and T-3 speeds.

The connections presently available are not of the same calibre as you would see in most urban centres, Almond said.

“In the end, we’re trying to compete operationally and economically with urban centres in Ontario and Canada and around the world.”

According to Desmond Lorente, chair of SCAN, the consortium completed a Request for Information (RFI) to find out what different vendors’ solutions were, including network designs and pricing information.

“We have projected the network design will be a hybrid design, which will consist of leasing owned lines, for example Bell’s lines, and building a wireless network to maintain a minimum standard,” Lorente said.

SCAN hopes to have all the negotiations completed, in terms of having the leased lines in place and up and running, by January 2001.

“We envision a multi-vendor solution,” Lorente said, “depending on who has what in different areas.”

Where landline solutions are not available, wireless solutions will be used, Lorente said. The network will have points of presence (POP) for users to connect to through existing copper and spectrum.

The provincial government is also helping with the project by investing $1.4 million through the Telecommunications Access Partnerships (TAP) program.

SCAN’s application to the province for funding was designed around three applications, according to Lorente: Geographical Information Systems (GIS) applications, for the public and other users to look up information relating to County properties, geography or planning; Medical applications, which include clinical and financial applications as well as video conferencing; and Virtual Town Hall applications, for municipal government and libraries for the public and businesses.

All three applications will be completed this year, and then the focus will be on the network itself, Lorente said.

“The leased lines will be January, and then we’ll actually start building our wireless towers and making the leasing arrangements on the existing towers, putting in that infrastructure in 2001.”

The process so far has been fairly painless, according to Almond.

“The process went actually pretty smoothly because there was a group of people with similar goals and interests,” he said.