Canadian success stories

Who Pays for Municipal Broadband?

The introduction of O-Net in Canada’s first “Gigabit Town” of Olds, Alberta was a massive leap in independence and self-reliance for small communities. O-Net is a fibre network that brings affordable and unlimited Internet to both residential and business subscribers. At 1 Gbps, the network is more than fast enough to handle the heavy-duty online traffic that businesses require today.

The cost of completion for O-Net, which began construction in 2011, was approximately $21 million. Olds funded the project from a variety of sources. A grant for $2.5 million was awarded to the municipality by the Alberta government, while loans in the amount of $6 million and $8 million were provided by the Town of Olds and Olds Town Council, respectively. Loans from the Alberta government totaled around $14 million.

However, that money didn’t come out of taxpayers’ pockets; O-Net is generating enough revenue to repay the amount borrowed from the provincial government, proving that municipal broadband can implemented without raising taxes. If just one-third of residents subscribe to O-Net, the network pays for itself. It’s projected that Olds will be able to pay the Alberta government back within 10 years. For a town with a population of 8,235 people, that looks pretty good!

Who Champions Municipal Broadband?

QNet, a municipally-owned fibre network in Coquitlam, BC, has been exceeding expectations since its incorporation in 2008. Spanning nearly 60 kilometers of fibre, Qnet can bring affordable and fast Internet service to nearly any location within the city limits, and has saved Coquitlam millions in telecom costs. Yet without someone to champion the initiative, Qnet may never have gotten off the ground.

A project champion is a person or group who steps up to the plate to ensure that the project succeeds. It was Rick Adams and Roel Coert who became the champions of Qnet. As Coquitlam’s ICT Manager, Rick Adams saw an opportunity to fill the city’s open ducts with fibre. He presented the idea to City Council, and set up the Metro Vancouver Intelligent Community Task Force. Soon 45 kilometers of ductwork and fibre optic cable spanned the city, leaving ample capacity for both city services and private companies to utilize the network.

Roel Coert, a consultant specializing in municipal broadband, brought extensive telecom experience to the project as QNet’s Director of Operations. It was Coert who presented to City Council the idea of sharing extra bandwidth capacity with telecom companies, which fairly separates wholesale and retail-offered service.

Adams and Coert were responsible for identifying the objectives and goals, conducting a feasibility study, and working with a team to determine the viability of the project. It began with a business case analysis and a look at what existing facilities (e.g. ductwork) could be used to the project’s advantage. Their combined initiative is what turned Qnet into the revenue powerhouse it is today.

What Does Municipal Broadband Achieve?

Partnered with municipal, provincial, and federal governments, the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus established EORN — the Eastern Ontario Regional Network. EORN has brought high-speed Internet access to a highly dispersed, rural population. This network of fibre optic cable covers nearly 50,000 square kilometers of area, which residents can access through several different Internet service providers (ISPs).

EORN encourages a fair and competitive broadband market by maintaining an Open Access policy. That means that any ISP has the same opportunity to use EORN’s fibre network; this includes indie providers, who sometimes face an uphill battle entering a market dominated by well-established companies.

Construction of this broadband network has opened the doors for negotiation with ISPs, resulting in agreements that benefit customers. Residents can enjoy faster speeds, greater bandwidth, and lower prices than ever before. With 160 new access points, EORN can provide more than 1 million people with Internet speeds of 10 Mbps or greater. For remote areas, which may be unable to connect to wireless or wired service, customers can connect to satellite Internet at the same speeds. Improved access to fibre networks for rural consumers ensures that all Eastern Ontarians, not just those in urban centres, can use the Internet however they choose.

Where Else Does Municipal Broadband Exist?

Projects like O-Net, Qnet, and EORN exist all over Canada — and more are springing up every day. Here are some great examples: 

Olds, AB: O-Net is a municipal-owned fibre network which offers gigabit internet speeds to businesses and residents within the municipality.

Coquitlam, BC: QNet provides fast and competitively-prices fibre internet connections to businesses, schools, and residential highrises within the city, while leasing out unused network capacity to private ISPs.

Stratford, ON: Rhyzome Networks operate a city-owned fibre optic grid, which customers can connect to via wireless antenna.

Eastern Ontario: EORN is a regional fibre optic network that provides rural businesses and residential access points with cutting-edge broadband speeds.

Thunder Bay, ON: Tbaytel was incorporated over 100 years ago as Thunder Bay Telephone, and has evolved to now operate Northern Ontario’s largest 4G network.

Sudbury, ON: Agilis Networks, a city-owned telecom company, operates a fibre optic network that can provide subscribers with sizable bandwidth and blazing fast internet speeds.

Muskoka, ON: Lakeland Networks became a municipally-owned Internet service provider in 2010, for the purpose of bringing fibre optic internet to the region.

Niagara, ON: Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN) is a telecom provider in the Niagara region, which is owned by a cooperative of utility service providers.

South Dundas, ON: The Municipality of South Dundus provides a fibre optic connection as a utility to residents and businesses in the community.

To follow the examples these municipalities have set, communities such as New Westminister, BC, have recently announced plans for municipal broadband networks of their own. The places listed above are indeed trailblazers, but they’ve forged the path for your community to do the same.