The RDEK is looking at using money collected from an existing gas tax fund to go towards the expansion of regional broadband projects in partnership with internet service providers.
“We’re really trying to work with the internet service providers, because we feel that this should be done by the private sector,” said Area C director Rob Gay. “Government’s got a role in trying to improve the private sector’s business case in some places.”
Gay said that, until recently, funding from the federal gas tax could only go towards a limited shortlist of water or sewer projects.
“Now, what’s happened is the list is quite long,” continued Gay. “It includes roads, trails, broadband and internet connectivity, so we had a discussion yesterday [Thursday] with the directors to see if there was a desire to use some of that money to help bring broadband to those rural and remote communities that aren’t serviced by the big telecoms or even the little ones.”
Gay acknowledged that there are concerns, which were raised by his fellow directors during the Electoral Area Services committee meeting, that the gas tax funds are limited, and any funding should be judiciously spent.
That being said, Gay adds that the RDEK has done extensive mapping and is aware of the regions that don’t currently have access to broadband.
There is a federal plan in place that calls for five Mbps (megabits per second), but many people only have one or one and a half Mbps, Gay said.
“Our plans for the Kootenay and Boundary are are lining up very closely with the federal plan, so that’s really nice,” Gay said.
“The feds are going to have a call for proposals this fall…it’s only going to be available to the internet service providers, so what we, as a committee, want to do is help these small businesses and not-for-profit societies, in some cases, be ready for that call, so that’ll be another piece of our work.”
The Columbia Basin Trust and the Regional Broadband Committee, which consists of the Regional Districts of Central Kootenay, Kootenay Boundary, East Kootenay and Columbia Shuswap along with the Village of Valemount and Ktunaxa Nation Council, recognize that collaboration is key to funding broadband access.
The committee has identified seven strategic goals in regard to a regional broadband strategy, which includes the five Mbps to 80 per cent of households that cannot currently access it by 2016. Priorities include broadband for at-home businesses, tele-workers, students, and healthcare access through tele-medicine diagnostic and specialty care services.