High speed comes to rural Ontario region

Residents and businesses of Northern Ontario’s Blue Sky Region that have had little or no access to high speed Internet service will be connected via a fixed wireless connection by year’s end in phase one of Blue Sky Net’s project Skywire.

The region encompasses 80 communities such as Feroria, Powassan and Verner.

“The mandate is to improve the productivity and the quality of life [in the Blue Sky region] via information technology,” said Jeff Buell, the project coordinator of Skywire, based in North Bay.

Sky Net has partnered with W3 Connex Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in providing Internet to underserved communities, to assist in purchasing new towers for their wireless network that will be a blend of fixed wireless and wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) technologies.

The project began in October 2002 at the Blue Sky Region Community Network, a volunteer organization to support free Internet access via Community Access Projects across the Blue Sky region. The group saw a need for the community to get high speed Internet when it noticed many people coming into the public libraries to use the Internet. The small business community also required high-speed access so they could be more competitive.

“Small businesses [maybe had] to relocate [in the past] to larger centres because they did not have the Internet. [Now with this project] they would be able to leverage some competitive edge and no longer be handicapped,” Buell said. By the end of the first phase, 90,000 residents (32,900 households and 5,100 businesses) should have access to high speed Internet, which should equate to about 80 per cent of the community.

The project received funding from the private sector and public sector groups such as Industry Canada’s Broadband Rural and Northern Development fund (a program to assist communities with no access to high speed Internet). Once funding was approved, Blue Sky Region Community Network handed over the reigns in October 2003 to the Blue Sky economic growth corporation (of which Blue Sky Net is a part) as they lacked the resources to make this project a reality.

The network is scalable, Buell said, so it can meet any increased demand. In the immediate future, he hopes to set up Voice over IP so clients will have a secure and reliable dial tone and the community can expand E-health and E-learning to make them prevalent in the region.

And what advice does Buell offer to other communities interested in setting up their own network? This is a question he hopes to answer by the end of this year as he is currently working with researchers from a joint Ryerson and York University project who will investigate some of the social and economic impacts high speed Internet will have on rural communities.

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