Access to high-speed internet expanding in cottage country

Cell Tower Photo by Shutterstock/blackzheep

Lakeland Energy, a data, communications, and mapping service jointly owned by the Ontario municipalities of Bracebridge, Huntsville, Burk’s Falls, Sundridge, and Magnetawan, has applied for provincial and federal funding to expand internet connectivity throughout the areas of Muskoka and Parry Sound.

According to Chris Litschko, CEO of Lakeland Energy, the funding the company has applied for is part of the government’s plan to spread internet access across Canada. “With COVID, it really came to the forefront of how essential good broadband or high-speed internet is,” Litschko says.

The federal government’s broadband fund targets rural and isolated areas that currently have limited to no internet access. The goal is to bring 50/10 broadband to these communities, meaning the internet would have a 50 megabits per second download speed and an upload speed of 10 megabits per second. “It’s a great speed if you can get it,” Litschko adds.

Through the Universal Broadband Fund, the federal government will release $6 billion in funding over the next 10 years. “There’s a rumour that they might release $1 billion of that over the next few weeks or months,” Litschko says, “so we’re really gearing up for that.”

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To determine how much funding it would need, Lakeland Energy mapped out the areas of Bracebridge and Parry Sound to determine where there is good, slow, or missing connectivity. “Based on the funding formulas, we were able to put together a large plan for about $30 million,” Litschko says. “That would cover basically all of Parry Sound and Muskoka, and get good internet to everybody.”

If Lakeland Energy receives the funding, it will start by expanding its fiber-optic network. “Fiber optics is usually always the priority because it is the best service you can provide,” Litschko says. Currently, Lakeland Energy has 500 kilometres of fiber optic cable stretching from Gravenhurst up into Burk’s Falls.

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If tricky terrain rules out the option of laying fiber optics, Litschko says Lakeland Energy will use alternatives, such as wireless towers or a hybrid model where they connect a fiber optic cable to the tower, boosting its speed.

Currently, the company is using its own funds to expand its fiber optic network in Sundridge and Burk’s Falls. The expansion will bring high-speed internet, telephone connections, audio conferencing, and digital TV to over 1,000 homes and businesses in the towns.

“Some are going live right now,” says Dave Keith, director of business development and operations for Lakeland Networks—Lakeland Energy’s holding company. “Work is in process, expected to be completed by late December, early January.”

Lyle Hall, mayor of Sundridge, says the expansion is going to be great for the community. With the effects of COVID-19, Hall has noticed that high-speed internet has become a crucial feature for people looking to buy in the area. Cottagers in particular are shifting their lifestyles north, enjoying the natural environment while working remotely.

High-speed internet also plays a pivotal role for kids in the area. “If people have to do remote learning and if we’re homeschooling kids and things like that, we absolutely need to have that type of speed and availability, to allow people to educate and stay safe,” Hall says.

Currently, Sundridge’s high-speed internet access is limited to the municipal building, library, medical centre, and fire department. “We need something a little more public that everybody can tap into,” Hall says.

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