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Eastern Ontario rural internet project scrapped after feds, province deny funding

·2 min read
The Eastern Ontario Regional Network announced last week it would not be receiving funding from the Ontario or federal governments for its Gig Project, which aimed to bring high-speed internet to rural eastern Ontario homes and businesses. (CBC - image credit)
The Eastern Ontario Regional Network announced last week it would not be receiving funding from the Ontario or federal governments for its Gig Project, which aimed to bring high-speed internet to rural eastern Ontario homes and businesses. (CBC - image credit)

An ambitious project designed to bring high-speed internet to rural eastern Ontario has been scrapped after both the Ontario and federal governments refused to contribute.

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) had called for a $400 million investment — to be split evenly between the two higher levels of government — for its Gig Project, which would have provided download speeds of one gigabit, or 1,000 Mbps (megabits per second), to 95 per cent of eastern Ontario.

But late last week, as first reported in the Brockville Recorder and Times, EORN told officials across the region it would not be receiving the public funds.

Instead, the province and federal government announced a joint venture that would dole out $1.2 billion in funds to bring high-speed internet to 280,000 rural households across Ontario.

"Always happy to see millions, hundreds of millions or billions in these initiatives, but the devil is in the details," said Brent Devolin,mayor of the Township of Minden Hills, Ont., and vice-chair of EORN.

"Before I give it a full thumbs up, I'd like to see exactly where that coverage is going to improve and where it isn't."

'Pandemic has changed everything'

Many people living in rural parts of the province are pushing all levels of government to narrow the connectivity divide between Ontario's rural and urban populations, something that became even more apparent when the shift to working and learning at home happened more than a year ago.

"The pandemic has changed everything," said Nancy Peckford, mayor of North Grenville, Ont. "The needs of rural residents in eastern Ontario are equal to those of urban areas."

Peckford said she will closely monitor whether the joint federal-provincial funding translates into better connectivity for residents in her community.

"I suspect in a year from now, we'll be in a much better position to look at a Gig Project 2.0, if you will, to ensure the gaps that aren't covered in this round of funding are addressed as quickly as possible."

Olivia Chandler/CBC
Olivia Chandler/CBC

EORN also plans to continue monitoring the internet situation across the region.

"The EORN Gig Project was essentially a made-in-eastern Ontario solution for eastern Ontario," said Pierre Leroux, mayor of Russell Township and an EORN board member. "But at this point in time, I think EORN's role will be to make sure the residents of eastern Ontario are going to be served properly."

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