Province investing $71M to tackle cellular dead zones across eastern Ontario

Minister of Infrastracture Monte McNaugthon announced $71 million for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network to improve cellular and broadband service in eastern Ontario. Dan Nyznik/Global Peterborough

The province is investing $71 million to improve mobile broadband and cellular service throughout eastern Ontario.

On Friday, in the village of Roseneath in Northumberland County, Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton announced the investment for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) for a project that aims to “virtually eliminate coverage gaps” in cellular and mobile services, in particular in many rural regions.

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McNaughton said an estimated 10 per cent of eastern Ontario is considered a “cell dead zone” — either due to terrain or economic challenges.

“Our government has committed to help people get the broadband and cellular connections they need,” McNaughton stated.

“This means there are homes, businesses and major roadways where it is difficult to access the internet from a smartphone. We all know examples where people are put in dangerous positions because of dropped calls or lost connections during emergencies.

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“This is a matter of public safety and economic opportunity,” he said.

The EORN, a non-profit created by the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus which represents 11 county municipalities and two single-tier municipalities, says many gaps are the result of market failure.

Chairman J. Murray Jones, warden of Peterborough County, says rural areas don’t generate enough revenue for mobile carriers to build adequate services.

He says the CRTC recently designated both mobile and fixed broadband as basic services for all Canadians.

The EORN says the public-private partnership will reduce carriers’ infrastructure costs, creating a stronger business case to improve services and meet the CRTC’s basic service goals.

“EORN is building on the investment we’ve already made in broadband infrastructure across the region to close the gap in mobile services and improve economic growth, quality of life and public safety,” he said.

McNaugton says the project will require support from the federal government, private sector and municipal partners. Total value of the project is $213 million. The province says it will generate up to 3,000 jobs over the next decade with potential revenues of $420 million.

Peterborough-South MPP David Piccini says the government is taking action to improve connectivity so people can feel confident and safe at home and on the road.

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“In a digital world, being disconnected means being at a disadvantage,” said Piccini during a press conference outside Robins General Merchant store.

“It is critical to have the proper infrastructure in place to support public safety across the province, especially in this region where cellular coverage is often lacking.”

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“The demand for mobile broadband is growing exponentially, but our region is deeply lacking the needed infrastructure to keep up,” added EOWC (Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus) chairman Andy Letham, and mayor of the City of Kawartha Lakes. “This project is our top priority because eastern Ontario’s economic future is at stake.”

The EORN says 40 per cent of eastern Ontario does not have access to high-def services that allows streaming of HD video. Approximately 20 per cent of the area does not have access to standard definition video, typical mobile app use and video app calling and 10 per cent have no voice call service.

The EOWC consists of the City of Kawartha Lakes and the counties of Peterborough, Northumberland, Haliburton, Hastings, Frontenac, Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, Lennox and Addington, Prescott and Russell, Prince Edward, Renfrew and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.

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