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SWIFT project wants to build ‘ultra-high-speed’ network

In Council Watch
Mar 13th, 2015

By Andrew Philips Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin

A major municipal Internet project could bring high-speed broadband to shutout areas while improving existing service elsewhere.

That’s the main goal behind SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT), according to project lead Geoff Hogan.

“We’re quite successful thanks to our guiding principles,” Hogan told Simcoe County councillors during their bi-monthly meeting in Midhurst.

Initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (a not-for-profit organization comprised of the heads of council representing 15 rural municipalities, including Simcoe County) and in partnership with the Southwest Economic Alliance, the project wants to build “an ultra-high-speed, fibre-optic regional broadband network for everyone in western Ontario.”

Hogan, who lives in neighbouring Grey County, is busy these days visiting county councils throughout the region to try to drum up support and eventual partial funding for the estimated $240-million undertaking.

“We have a long-term say in where broadband gets built,” he said, noting large telecommunication companies will focus first on where they have the most customers and in turn, the biggest bang for their buck.

The plan would create fibre-optic connectivity accessible to 3.5 million people across 41,286 square kilometres by tying in with Internet Exchange Points in Toronto, St. Catharines and Windsor.

The proposed model would include $160 million in federal and provincial funding, as well as $60 million from Internet Service Providers and $20 million from municipalities and other supporters.

“SWIFT isn’t just based on return on investment,” Hogan said, adding councillors could raise awareness about the need with their MPs and MPPs regarding the balance of project funding.

Hogan acknowledged the plan “isn’t going to happen tomorrow,” but is a long-term solution towards creating a large-scale network that he said continues to hamstring businesses operating out of rural areas.

“We want to get to where Australia is today, where New Zealand is today,” he said. “We need to have the tools to compete.”

Midland Deputy Mayor Mike Ross questioned the project’s timelines towards creating a comprehensive fibre network over the next decade.

“Why do we need this?” Ross asked. “How do we know it’s the wave of the future? In 2040, will there be new technology coming down?”

Hogan said that fibre has been and continues to be a technology that’s proving timeless, noting that “fibre has that long life.”

Ramara Township Basil Clarke said he would support anything that improves service in his municipality that now sports a number of “blackout areas.”

Simcoe County CAO Mark Aitken said most of the counties involved are considering the project’s financial implications, which is estimated at $500,000 annually over five years for the county.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at for some time,” he said. “This has some good potential. The next six months is going to be kind of telling of what’s going to come out of this project.”

As part of the plan, SWIFT would be open-access for all providers and users, and rates would be published for all to see. The organization states that “ongoing competition and full transparency generates more selection, better services, more choices and lower prices.”

As well, the plan calls for the service fees paid by users and providers to be reinvested in expanding fibre connectivity, lowering rates and ensuring SWIFT remains self-sustaining.

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