There is a quest on to bring broadband to the far reaches of the Columbia Basin, by way of the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC). The corporation is a subsidiary of the Columbia Basin Trust, created to bring broadband internet to rural areas where it is not economically viable for the big telecoms to reach.
Recently, the CBBC in cooperation with the Regional Broadband Committee is reaching out to identify small and medium sized local and regional internet service providers.
Rob Gay, chair of the Regional District of East Kootenay sits on the Regional Broadband Committee. Gay said after the committee came together it came up with a future plan made up of seven broad goals.
“A lot of the committee said, well now that we have a plan, who’s going to implement it?” Gay said. “Really there was no one we could see that was already organized. So what we’ve done as a governance group is said we’d like to continue our work for another two years so we can align with our first goal of getting things in place by 2016.”
He said they have some of that work done, for instance they are working on a Memorandum of Understanding that the Regional Districts and the Ktunaxa Nation need to work under.
“So we’ll get that done,” he said. “But in the meantime they are really focusing their attention on making sure the internet service providers in our region have an opportunity to bid on the federal money that is coming out.”
The call to proposals for the federal money will be coming out in September or October.
“We have some folks working with us that say the call this year will be really similar to last year, in that they need a really high degree of accuracy and quality in the submissions,” he said. “Last year there weren’t enough submissions from across Canada that not all the money that was available was actually awarded. We want to take advantage of that this year.”
Gay said that while big telecom companies like Telus were able to provide high-speed broadband to all the residents in the Kootenays, the broadband committee members would go home.
“That’s something our residents want,” he said. “But we really see the private sector as being the people that are actually going to make it work and make it competitive.
In some cases the private sector is not-for-profit organizations. That’s what we want to see is how many of these small business operators are interested.
The regional committee has hired a resource person from Vancouver.
“We feel we have the expertise and knowledge in the region, it’s just trying to work together a little bit collaboratively and get some of these grants,” he said.
He said another thing they see a need for is public investment to make the business case better for the service providers.
Gay uses the case of a cell-type tower.
“If we were able to invest in a tower, let’s say in the St. Mary Valley, and there wouldn’t be any exclusivity to it, anybody that wanted to use that tower would be able to use it, but we would put the initial $20-, $30- or $40- thousand out for this tower. It would allow those businesses to use that facility at a very nominal rate and provide business for the community that was getting lower or no service at this point.
“I always imagine these great big towers like the one CPR put up, but in some cases it’s just basically an antenna on top of a public building or something like that. So it can probably range from a low of $1,000 to probably upwards of $50,000.
“Some of the issues, if you’re going to put it on Crown land is the application process that you have to go through.”
He said there is a lot of work that would need to be done. Part of the call for proposals from the federal government is going to be a mapping exercise. They want to know which areas do not have the level of service.
“Our initiative is actually two-pronged,” Gay explained. “One is to bring broadband to those that want it, but can’t get it right now. “We’d like to be able to serve 80 per cent of those and I don’t know how many people are in that, we don’t have the numbers.
“The second part is to bring them up to that five megabyte speed. That’s probably a bigger challenge in the rural area, because a lot of people that have internet, my friends in Wycliff and Wardner, will all tell you that they have it, but it’s just one step above dial-up.
“It’s very slow and quite frustrating and they can’t download pictures of their grandkids.”