• Rob Hornberger

$19-million fibre-optic cable project to boost internet service in remote rural areas of county

Internet called an 'essential service' for families, businesses

Essex County Warden Gary McNamara, left, addresses a news conference Friday announcing improved internet service for rural Essex County. At right is Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk.

LIGHTHOUSE COVE — The federal and provincial governments announced Friday the rollout of a $19-million project to bring improved broadband service to remote rural areas in Kingsville, Leamington, Essex and Lakeshore.

Internet service providers will begin installing 244 kilometres of fibre-optic cable next month which will eventually provide high-speed internet to more than 5,000 homes and businesses in rural Essex County.

Representatives from the three levels of government — federal, provincial and municipal — said at a news conference here Friday that COVID-19 has made access to high-speed internet a necessity — for business expansion, for farmers and for students attending classes remotely from home.

“It’s an essential service,” Essex County Warden Gary McNamara said.

McNamara said the most underserviced areas will be targeted first.

Tech Savvy will be the first internet provider to begin installing fibre-optic cable, followed by Cogeco Cable. It’s hoped the hookup to improved broadband will be completed sometime in 2022.

The plan announced Friday is part of $191 million the two upper levels of government will spend —along with the internet service providers and local municipalities — in Southwestern Ontario to bring fast, reliable internet to rural communities.

Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology Inc. (SWIFT), a non-profit corporation formed by municipalities in Southwestern Ontario, will act as the general contractor and oversee the installation. SWIFT also signed the contracts with the various providers.

“I have heard many times from families and businesses about the frustration they’ve experienced not having broadband internet — from farmers not being able to do their books online to families not being able to watch movies together,” said Randy Pettapiece, parliamentary assistant to provincial Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman.

“The broadband is the next key piece of infrastructure … to help support local businesses that are in remote areas."

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, who attended Friday’s news conference, said reliable internet will be a key driver in making rural businesses more prosperous and more innovative. He said it will also help local farmers.

“The broadband is the next key piece of infrastructure … to help support local businesses that are in remote areas,” he said.

“Farmers use the technology, everything from GPS for their harvesting equipment to monitoring their crops.”

McNamara cited a personal example to highlight the need for good rural internet. He said his son and daughter-in-law work from home in a rural area of Lakeshore, but often travel to his home in Tecumseh to download documents.

“It’s not just a pandemic issue. Post-pandemic, people and companies are going to realize that work can be done at home. And we’re seeing now the movement of people from the GTA to our area … this is not a luxury,” he said.

McNamara noted some Third World countries have better internet service that some parts of Essex County.

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