Fibre optic upgrades, faster Internet on the horizon

Although no details have yet been released, a Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) announcement can be expected in June on some progress on long-stalled plans for a fibre optic network to deliver high-speed Internet throughout the region.

Answering questions after his talk on the Lower Columbia Initiative Corporation’s (LCI) role in regional economic development on May 26, Sandy Santori said, “We’ll have more information, without putting words in CBT’s mouth, in 30 days or something like that.” Santori said. “Then we can take it to the next level.”

Lisa Erven, CBT manager of planning and development, said, “Last year the CBT board identified broadband as a priority. There are things in motion right now and they are confidential.”

The backbone of the CMON (Columbia Mountain Open Network) fibres exists throughout the region, and reached Rossland — specifically the schools and the courthouse — in 2004 as part of an SD20 (School District 20) contract partially funded by grants.

But the fibres aren’t lit, so the information superhighway still only flows to Rossland through slower cable and telephone lines. Finishing the infrastructure and lighting the lines seemed relatively straightforward to several participants at the meeting.

“It’s concrete, attainable, sellable, and it creates an obvious attraction for businesses,” said Jim Firstbrook, a software engineer and the founder of Fulcrum Management Solutions. He acknowledged the price tag, but “given that the fibre’s in the ground,” he suggested it was “low hanging fruit.”

“I don’t know how low [the fruit’s] hanging” Santori said, although he added, “There may be an opportunity to lessen the financial burden on communities.”

The fibres may be in the ground, said Craig Adams, the Community Futures General Manager, but there are other pieces of equipment you have to put in place.

“In Rossland, a conservative estimate is a quarter-million dollars to get a tangible benefit out of it,” he said, adding that it would cost even more if the service were expanded to a bigger area.

The bigger challenge is how to make it commercially and residentially accessible, Adams said. “There are plans underway to do a full evaluation of how this could happen.” He suggested it’s unlikely we’ll see it hooked up to every home, but its value may be in the downtown core.

Don Thompson of Red Mountain Ventures knows better than most the costs incurred and benefits promised by a fibre optic network. Several years ago, Red Mountain initiated a project with Telus to take fibre to the termination point at the entrance to Red, and Red’s recent renovations included ductwork to run fibre cables when the time comes.

The plans with Telus were “pre-economic meltdown” Thompson said, but then times changed.

“It’s there, it’s absolutely sellable, it was just too much for us to bite off at the time,” he explained. Thompson, Firstbrook, and others suggested the time has come for Rossland, and the region, to take a bigger bite into the information pie.


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