Ottawa earmarks $1 million for high-speed Internet rollout

The City will put out a RFP in about six weeks to the area’s Internet Service Providers and other major Canadian players with the hopes of selecting a partner by year-end. Total cost of the project is estimated at $3 million with a completion date of fall 2007.

City officials have already been in discussion with some of the area’s ISPs including Storm, Simply Surf, Northland Wireless, ARBNS as well as Bell and Rogers. In September 2005 Bell and Rogers agreed to jointly-manage and build a wireless high-speed Internet service to reach two-thirds of Canadians in less than three years called Inukshuk Internet Inc.

Ottawa’s broadband penetration has jumped from two per cent in 2003 to 60 per cent of its rural population at present, but it still has a ways to go, said Chris Cope, who works in the City’s economic development department and is the project lead. That jump is, in large part, thanks to a broadband initiative that the City government launched in 2003 in which residents were asked to form small groups and make a case to ISPs for deploying broadband access in their area.

“That approach, while successful, we’ve kind of picked the low-hanging fruit,” said Cope. “We’ve had the successes in the areas where the population existed in fairly substantial population nodes.”

There remain, however, approximately 12,500 households that still don’t have access to broadband Internet service. The rural area of Ottawa is approximately 2,359 sq. km. with a population of about 84,300 people.

A recent IDC Canada survey revealed that almost three quarters or 74 per cent of Canadian households had some kind of Internet access, including dialup, cable and DSL. Out of that number, three quarters of online households in Canada have high-speed access.

Lawrence Surtees, director of Canadian telecom and Internet research and principal analyst at IDC Canada said there are two ways of measuring Internet access: penetration by population and number of households. He said many communities often have trouble forming a business case to get high speed Internet service in their area.

“The issue is getting an organization together that can get funding and actually run the service,” said Surtees. “That’s often been a problem and a barrier in why these communities have remained without some form of high speed.”

Surtees, however, added that the proliferation of wireless broadband and the number of players starting to see a business case in rural areas have made it easier more recently.

Cope said the City of Ottawa recognizes that delivering broadband access to rural communities is a challenging project for any ISP but added that it is possible. The RFP will ask ISPs to come up with a way to connect all of the remaining broadband gaps.

The easiest and most cost effective way to do this will likely be wireless technology.

“Copper based solutions would be cost prohibitive,” he said. “Our million dollars would seem like a drop in the bucket.”

Likewise, Surtees said wireless technology is the most cost-effective way to set up a high speed network.

“Satellite transmission costs are quite expensive,” he said.

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