By Chad Ingram
To say that it's been a rough month would be a drastic understatement.
Mid-March seems like it was six months ago, the cabin feverish effects of self-isolation are beginning to set in for many of us, and our strange new circumstance has meant the adoption of altered routines. For example, along with my morning coffee, I like to stand on the deck and scream, “Why, God, why have you forsaken us?!” into the crisp, April air.
In the past week or two, most summer programming and events, from small ones to the large, hallmark festivals of Haliburton County, have been cancelled. Summertime as we know it in the Haliburton Highlands is effectively canned for this year, and, to deploy some advanced vernacular, that sucks big time.
However, amid this deflated backdrop, there was some good news for the county earlier this week, and it has nothing to do with COVID-19, which quite frankly is super refreshing for me after writing news about COVID-19 for a month straight.
The good news is that the Eastern Ontario Regional Network is releasing the first request for proposals for its massive cell gap project. That's the $213-million project that will see the construction of new communications towers throughout this region of province, with the goal of essentially filling all existing gaps when it comes to mobile, broadband, high-speed internet. According to EORN, which is owned by the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus, 40 per cent of the area it serves does not have speeds sufficient enough to stream high-definition video, and 20 per cent does not have access to standard definition video, typical mobile app use or video app calling. Ten per cent doesn't even have voice-calling service. None of these figures will come as a surprise for some residents of Haliburton County, where service in some areas can still be slow, slim or nil.
The last month has likely underscored the county's poor connectivity for many residents. While many of us have been expected to work from home during the crisis, that may be easier said than done for some depending on their level of internet connectivity. In general, the county's spotty connectivity hampers its economic development in terms of business attraction, and reliable mobile internet is also necessary for the community's safety. Then there's the convenience of being able to use modern digital communication tools. Congratulations to anyone who had stocks in teleconferencing platform Zoom before the pandemic struck, by the way.
The RFP will be on the market for four months, it's expected review of the submissions will take about equivalent time, and it's hoped that construction will commence in early 2021. The project will take three to four years to complete, and while that may seem too far away for some, remember we're talking about a project that is massive in scope and technical complexity, and which involves multiple private and public sector partners, including all three levels of government.
Hopefully the wait will be well worth it, and the next time there's a global pandemic, we'll all be better equipped to work from home.
Just kidding. I hope.