The Comox Valley Regional District is taking a next step toward high-speed Internet for its island communities.
At its July 27 meeting, the board supported a motion for the regional district to begin public engagement and the approval process with the Denman Island and Hornby Island communities. This will include a referendum in the fall over establishing funding for its share of the new service.
“This one is potentially exciting,” Area A director Daniel Arbour said at the meeting.
On Aug. 5, it turned to actual excitement. Much of the funding is coming from the province, which the B.C. government announced to cover so-called “last mile” infrastructure.
“Travelling throughout my riding, one of the most consistent priorities I hear from people is the critical importance of fast and reliable internet access. The Connecting British Columbia program is doing a remarkable job encouraging service providers to make investments in communities like Denman Island and Hornby Island,” Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osbourne said in the news release.
The project is aimed at improving internet connectivity for more than 1,350 households and services in the two island communities.
“Our staff often work in isolation in empty or marginal pockets of internet and cellular reception. Improved service will make our jobs safer and expand our options for online training and certification, crucial for the recruitment of new staff,” Hornby and Denman Community Health Care Society executive director Lori Nawrot said in the release.
The funding means up to $3.26 million from the province’s Connecting British Columbia program for Denman Island and up to $2.38 million for Hornby Island.
The opportunity now is for the two islands to join Connected Coast infrastructure. This represents a partnership in recent years to bring or improve high-speed, fibre optic internet connectivity to small coastal and island communities. CityWest, a telecommunications subsidiary of the City of Prince Rupert, is providing the internet service.
“It’s definitely new territory,” Arbour said.
The first phase of the Connected Coast project involved installing undersea cable and establishing landing sites, to be followed by establishing the last-mile connections. A working group was set up to push the CVRD for high-speed, fibre optic internet service and delivered a presentation before the CVRD’s Electoral Area Services Committee (EASC) early in the year.
This fall, the issue for the public engagement process and referendum will surround funding of the CVRD portion. CityWest had applied for the costs for much of the funding, but the CVRD has to cover 10 per cent. Financing would come from borrowing through the Municipal Finance Authority, with the CVRD raising revenue to pay for the loan. This will have to be approved through electoral assent.
“We’ll need to head to referendum to secure funding,” Arbour said.