EORN Project Co-Lead, Canada: “High speed services are not a matter of convenience, they are essential to communities”

Jim Pine, EORN Project Co-Lead is speaking in the Access Evolution track on Day Two of the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Ahead of the show we fine out more about the great challenges it has faced in bringing high-speed connectivity to the residents of rural Canada.

Tell me more about EORN is, what you do and why things are exciting for you right now.
EORN is a high-speed, high-capacity broadband network that spans an area of nearly 50,000 square kilometres. The area is larger than 109 countries across the world. EORN is project of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which is a group of 13 local government counties across Eastern Ontario.

EORN will bring access to high speed internet services to more than 1.1 million people in more than 500,000 homes and businesses, many of whom have suffered with little or no connectivity for years. The cost of building EORN is C$170m and is being funded by the 13 local counties, the Federal and Provincial governments and our private sector partners.

The building of the Network started in the fall of 2010 and we are currently nearing the three quarters built point. Parts of the network are already operating and people are enjoying the benefits of being able to connect their businesses to the world or doing on-line distance education or just being able to use the Internet for their personal activities. Soon we will be “fibre-ing-up” more than 60 businesses parks across the region as we seek to drive the regional economy forward.

All of the work has to be done December 31, 2014 and we are pleased to say that we are on time and on budget.

What are the biggest challenges you face as you look to roll-out high speed access?

Some of the biggest issues we have faced is dealing with the difficult terrain, sparse population in parts of the region and ensuring that consumer pricing is made affordable. Eastern Ontario is a large region with significant areas of hills, lakes and trees that make last mile access a huge challenge. Combine that with a sparse population that in some parts is less than three homes per square kilometre and you can see the challenges we have faced.

In all of our contracts with our private sector partners consumer pricing has been an important issue for us. Our goal has been to bring pricing to rural users that generally reflect pricing paid by people in urban communities. We believe that our efforts have significantly reduced the “urban-rural” price divide making it affordable where ever you live in the region.

 The Broadband World Forum is taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Click here to download a brochure for the event and here to register for a conference pass.

What is your business model and why do think it will succeed?

We have taken a truly public-private approach to our project. Government investment in the capital cost of building the broadband infrastructure was essential. Eastern Ontario was a good example of market failure. The private sector had determined that on it is own investing in rural areas was not profitable enough to justify the significant capital spending that was required.

The EOWC developed a model that has worked to secure private sector participation both in terms of direct financial investments and through in-kind assets. To date our private sector partners have contributed approximately C$55m in direct financial investments and the value of their in-kind contributions is reaching a further C$93m.

EORN is structured to knit together the expanded networks of our private sector partners through 5,500 kilometres of fibre and state of the art electronics with 160 Points of Presence that will deliver scalable high volume bandwidths around the region. Today’s technology will enable us to scale up as demand grows. Each POP can deliver 100 Gigs of capacity and we believe that will grow as well.

EORN has a mandate and contracts with our partners that run through 2024. Our job is ensure that our partners perform; that they operate as have contracted to do. Each partner is required to add capacity whenever demand hits certain points, and that is done at their cost not the taxpayers. EORN’s other main responsibility is to promote adoption of the network so that individuals, businesses, educational players and the health community can all innovate, create jobs and support the region. We will be launching our ten-year adoption strategy next January.

Why is super high speed important to the region? Isn’t ‘fast enough’ internet enough?

When we were originally thinking about improving high speed services to the region we tried to look at what was happening on the Internet around the world generally. It was quickly apparent that demand for bandwidth and speed was growing at compound annual rates in excess of 37 per cent. New applications that required video for example were using high volumes of bandwidth.

Being municipal employees we understood that it was important to try and anticipate what the future needs of our businesses and residents might be for high speed services. This was analogous to building sewer and water capacities for future residential and commercial developments.

Having capacity now and in the future was critical but we also believed that higher speeds were also essential. The importance of super high-speed continues to be a key need and with our fibre backhaul network and our last mile technologies we are confident that the capacity and speed needs of customers will be met.

The EU Digital Commissioner tried and failed to get the EU to subsidy internet connectivity. Should the Government be doing more to encourage broadband or is it solely the function of private sector enterprise?

Here in Eastern Ontario and indeed across Canada we have seen the results of leaving it solely to the private sector… much of rural Canada, including our region, was being left behind because of the simple economics. We have vast areas with small population concentrations across the country that have made providing access to high speed services incredibly difficult. However, connecting to the world is critical to a region or a nation’s growth in the world economy. High speed services are not a matter of convenience, they are essential to the health and well-being of our communities.

The 13 members of the EOWC understood this and have convinced both senior levels of Government; the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada to join with them in investing public funds to get EORN built. Without government support our region would continue to be un-served or not served at all.

What are you most looking forward to about attending the Broadband World Forum?

Our experience at the Forum last year exposed us to new and interesting technologies and to projects from around the globe. We were excited to learn about new developments, the people who were championing them and share our experiences with them.

The Broadband World Forum is a much bigger stage and we are eager to learn from others, pass on our model to delegates and of course we hope to win the award for Outstanding Contribution to Driving Broadband Penetration. We know we are in tough against some of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, but we are confident that our project, driven by local communities who have banded together to push high speed services to more than 1.1 million people in over 500,000 homes and businesses is a worthy competitor in this category.

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