Stratford: Ontario's technological innovation hub

Featured Community Broadband Leaders

Stratford has been running their own Internet service since the 1990s, when they first installed optic fibre. In a strategic move, the Ontario city was able to direct the money initially earned through its data utility, Rhyzome Networks, back into the project itself, expanding by 50 per cent and introducing 1 Gbps connections to schools and other public services.

This, of course, meant Stratford saved even more money. Through its network, a strong wi-fi connection has also been widely available at over 300 locations, while Rhyzome Networks' merger with the regional Wightman Telecom in 2012 has meant that the last four years in Stratford have seen fibre availability expand across the entire city. Stratford also operates a smart-meter program and offers a leasing program to ISPs and co-op networks.

Things weren’t always smooth sailing for Stratford though, which initially saw opposition from the province of Ontario. Averting privatization, Stratford took up an innovative alternate approach: the city participates as sole shareholder to two private companies, a hydro company to operate the electrical system and a service company to serve as the data utility.

The city’s mayor, Dan Mathieson, had this to say of a people-led Internet: “The data that flows across those networks is going to become part of everyday life, if it hasn’t already. If you can’t entice commercial entities to do it, then government should look at how they can play a role in advancing public broadband.”

With all the funds Stratford has saved by claiming their Internet for themselves, they’ve reinvigorated rural medical services and opened the doors of a satellite campus for the University of Waterloo which is dedicated to advancing digital technology. Operating Rhyzome also lead to the creation of 700 new jobs.

Their network has also reinvigorated Stratford's second strongest claim to fame, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, by outfitting this fair with web-based services and expansive online marketing like never before. In 2013, Stratford made the list as a Top7 Intelligent Community.