Simcoe plans for broadband boom

Simcoe County, Ont. has begun building a $12 million high-speed broadband network that will bring virtual town halls, telemedicine and GIS to 16 municipalities.

A non-profit cooperative called the Simcoe Community Access Network (SCAN) Tuesday said it had chosen Cygnal Technologies to build the fibre-optic backbone over the next 12 to 14 months. The network will connect 250 sites including schools, libraries, hospitals, municipal government facilities and local businesses and will be owned by SCBN Telecommunications Inc., a joint venture between Hydro One Telecom Inc., Barrie Hydro Energy Services Inc., Orillia Power Generation Corporation, Innisfil Energy Services Limited and Tay Utility Contracting Inc.

The showpiece of the completed network will be a portal called DiscoverSimcoe.com, which will offer virtual town hall capabilities to get more information about the region as well as conduct e-commerce activities like paying taxes and obtaining building permits. The GIS component will offer a research tool for developers interested in finding out zones and bylaws associated with parcels of land, tourism and economic development activities for citizens.

SCAN project manager Glen Barnden said the initiative got a boost after receiving federal funding through Technology Partnerships Canada.

“It shocked everybody that this buying power could attract anything like a 100MB infrastructure,” he said. “It puts us on a par with any city anywhere in the world.”

SCAN is yet another example of the growing movement by municipal governments to team on large-scale technology projects.

Jim Taylor, president of the data division at Cygnal Technologies, said the need to provide high-speed Internet services is forcing public sector partners to put potential differences aside. Taylor, who had worked with both Hydro One and Orillia Power Generation, helped bring them in on the bid. Deloitte & Touche conducted a needs assessment for SCAN which helped prepare the request for proposal.

“The rural areas are pushing hard to get on the map and both the federal and government are encouraging that,” he said. “I think everybody had an equal motivation.”

“There’s always a little bit of rivalry between the municipalities,” said Barnden. “Because this thing was so massive and each partner had so many locations in urban centres and rural locations, everyone got the sense that the only way this is going to work is if everyone works together.”

Barnden said SCAN has been bringing in many of the services over the past year. The network will increase their capability. The Royal Victoria Hospital, for example, plans to use network to send video files of patient information to allow remote diagnosis from hospitals like the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Taylor said the network helps different parts of the community achieve different goals.

“The hospital sector is seeing a big push with emergency diagnostics where you can get access to medical experience,” said Taylor. “In school boards and libraries, they want to reduce costs, and they can reduce or consolidate servers and not need a server in every school with this network.”

Barnden said SCAN hopes the project will be a strong calling card to IT workers looking for an alternative to major metropolitan areas as a place to work.

“High tech seems to like a lifestyle,” he said. “They like to live in places where you can ride a bike to work. They could see that this is an opportunity to attract business, any kind of business, to their area, as well as benefits to GTA area people who are commuting.”

Barnden said DiscoverSimcoe.com should be live in a few weeks.

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