Community Building

Project for better cell service in Eastern Ontario gets $71 million from province

By Francis Tessier-Burns

April 27, 2018

It’s no secret that cell service in Eastern Ontario is spotty.

In May last year, the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) came up with a project proposal that would address the problem. Nearly a year later, Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, food and Rural Affairs announced $71 million in support of the project—one third of the estimated $213 million price tag with the federal government and municipalities putting up a third each.

According to Stéphane Parisien, CAO of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), the municipal portion would actually only be $10 million split among the 13 member municipalities of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, with the other $61 million coming from the private sector that would bring in the infrastructure to build the improved network. Prescott-Russell’s portion is $672,000 over the four years anticipated to build the project.

As it’s an election year, that funding still isn’t guaranteed, said Lisa Severson, communications officer for EORN. She added that the organization met with all three parties in January and they’ve all shown initial support.

The Eastern Ontario monopoly

In a press release, EORN says, “one quarter of the area where there are homes, businesses or major roads in the region cannot access any cellular services.”

It goes on to say this is the result of “market failure,” since rural areas aren’t profitable enough for major telecomms to invest millions in infrastructure. Now since the majority of the money will be coming from the public sector, corporations have the incentive to invest. Not only will taxpayers be paying their phone bills, they’re paying corporations to just show up and bring in the service.

Realistically, the only companies with the capital to invest in such are large project are the major players like Bell and Rogers, which can lead to a monopolization of service.

Asked about this possibility, Parisien said, “There’s not much we can do. Our goal is to bring in better capacity and connectivity for our residents but it’s no secret Bell and Rogers have the monopoly.”

Just getting the service is the priority for Severson and the EORN.

“Municipalities need to start looking at connectivity like their roads and bridges,” she said. “It is infrastructure and it’s the infrastructure of the future.”