Eastern Ontario communities launch $213M P3 to bridge mobile broadband gaps

Slow mobile download

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), with the support of the Ontario and federal governments, has launched a public-private partnership to improve broadband mobile coverage across the region.

EORN is a non-profit dedicated to improving rural connectivity to support economic growth and quality of life. It was founded by the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus, which works and advocates on behalf of property taxpayers across rural Eastern Ontario. 

Take a drive just about anywhere across the region and cellular dead zones are not hard to find. In a statement, EORN said that these “gaps are the result of market failure. Rural areas don’t generate enough revenue for mobile carriers to build adequate services.”

The federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), however, has designated both mobile and fixed broadband as basic services for all Canadians. EORN’s public-private partnership is expected to reduce carriers’ infrastructure costs, “creating a stronger business case to improve services and meet the CRTC’s basic services goals.”

The total cost of the project is $213 million. The federal and provincial governments have committed $71 million each. All members of the EOWC and most municipalities within the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus are contributing to the $10 million municipal share. Mobile carriers are expected to provide the balance of the funding.

The first request for proposal, issued April 20, is a competitive bidding process to identify telecommunication partners that offer both the expertise and best value for expanded cell coverage.

“At this critical time it’s important that all Canadians can stay connected through reliable cell service and high-speed internet,” Maryam Monsef, Ontario’s minister of women and gender equality and rural economic development, said in a statement. “This important project will bring mobile service to more than 100 communities and over one million people across Eastern Ontario and ensure that residents and businesses have better access to online services and tools.”

According to EORN:

  • 40 per cent of Eastern Ontario does not have access to high-definition services that allow streaming HD video.
  • 20 per cent of the area does not have access to standard definition video, typical mobile app use and video app calling.
  • 10 per cent has no voice calling service.

“EORN has been planning this work for several years and we are pleased to finally launch the bidding process – an important first step in building the project,” said EORN chair J. Murray Jones. “We are looking to build on the investment we’ve already made in broadband infrastructure with partners who will deliver value and quality in closing the gap in mobile services.”

The EORN initiative applies to a geographic area that includes 13 members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (11 regional county municipalities and two single-tier municipalities), and nine separated municipalities.