SPENCERVILLE - In August, the township council wrote a letter of support for the ICON funding application of Cogeco Connexion in the hopes of determining possible solutions to a funding gap which affects bringing internet to homes between Johnstown and Cardinal. That letter, and a presentation, were on the agenda last Monday night at the council's Committee of the Whole Administration and Finances meeting.
Michael Hennessy of Cogeco attended the meeting virtually to give a presentation and discuss the question of whether the township could or would be willing to fund the shortfall for bringing increased connectivity to the area. The shortfall between the cost and the available government funding is approximately $31,000.
"The recent CRTC funding of $750 million was supposed to last five years; we already have over a billion dollars in demand," explained Hennessy, adding that if the $31,000 was received from the township, the company "is ready to move forward quickly". The actual time frame was more than two years down the road - if the work started in spring of 2021, the entire process could take until March 2024. Hennessy said just getting the proper permits is quite time consuming.
Over 1.4 million people in Ontario do not have broadband or cellular access and as many as 12 per cent of households in rural areas are underserviced or not serviced. There are currently homes in the Johnstown area which are serviced by Cogeco but this new plan would see another 308 homes able to access their services.
Council seemed concerned with funding the company to only add this amount of homes to their service area and discussed several questions with the representative. One question they asked Hennessy was when he felt Cogeco would be able to move into the more rural areas like Spencerville. Hennessy replied that they were already in talks with Augusta and Elizabeth-Kitley Townships and couldn't put an exact time limit on areas such as Spencerville and the surrounding area.
Council discussed several alternatives after Hennessy finished his presentation and left the meeting. They were concerned with a repayment plan which would see the homeowners paying the township back for funding the service. Other concerns were the length of time it will take to complete the process.
When polled for their opinions, several councillors and members of the committee expressed the idea of contacting the 308 residents effected for their opinion and possible commitment. Councillor John Hunter felt that providing as many services as possible is a responsibility of council and that they should go ahead.
"This is the starting point," he said. "It's going to come to other areas like Spencerville and other villages and hamlets eventually." Others were not so sure they should offer to fund something which would technically be spending dollars from all taxpayers on one area, whether the money was paid back or not.
During both the discussion with Hennessy and the subsequent round-table Mayor Pat Sayeau declared a conflict of interest and surrendered the chair to Deputy-Mayor Tory Deschamps as he lives in the area which would benefit from the service. He sat in the gallery and took no part in the discussions.
The deputy-mayor summed up the discussion by saying he felt he was hearing general acceptance of the proposal to fund the shortfall but heard that the cost recovery was an issue. He suggested they needed more information on cost-recovery mechanism which would satisfy all questions of fairness and asked staff to prepare a report for the next regular council meeting. He stated that as a group Council could discuss the current options or possibly come up with a different plan.
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