Cornwall buys in to better cell service

Jim Pine and Lisa Severson of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network speak to city council in Cornwall, Ont. on Monday, July 9, 2018. The city is jumping on board the EORN project to fill the gaps and address cell network capacity in Eastern Ontario. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The city is jumping on board an Eastern Ontario project to close the gaps in cell coverage and broadband capacity.

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network made its pitch to city council Monday night for it to get on board the $213 million project. That’s $71 million each from the federal and provincial governments, $61 million from the cell phone carriers and the private sector, and $10 million from municipalities under the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus and the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus.

Right now, there is about 18 per cent of Eastern Ontario that has no cell coverage and 16 per cent that has inadequate coverage. This project would bring that down to less than 1 per cent and there would be 5G coverage.

Jim Pine, the project co-lead with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), spoke with Cornwall Newswatch shortly after council decided to chip in its $296,464 share to the project.

“We are really appreciative of city council’s decision to financially support the mobile broadband project. It’s showing leadership in the community and we’re just thrilled with their decision,” Pine told CNW.

This is not the first time Cornwall has hopped on board an EORN project, spending $258,000 a few years ago to lay fiber optic lines in Eastern Ontario. Pine told council, having that fiber was a key factor in Xplornet opening an office in the city that now has a $4-6 million payroll.

“I think it’s already helping jobs. When you can improve internet connectivity. Employers need it. They look for it before they make financial decisions but our analysis of what the cell project will do throughout the region is about 3,000 full time jobs based on the economic activity that gets generated from people being able to do business over mobile networks,” Pine said.

Pine says limitations in the mobile network are everywhere, even in urban Cornwall.

“It’s the nature of the fact that people want to connect with their smart phone or their tablet and they want to do more things on it. They want to download video and upload files and all that puts a strain on the capacity of networks and we know that’s only to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”

The plan is for construction to start in 2020 and it will take about 3-4 years to complete.

“We’re talking about an area the size of Nova Scotia, not just Cornwall. We have to do the whole of Eastern Ontario so that’s a three or four year build by the time you build all the towers and put the fiber and stuff. But we’ll light it up as we go like we did the last time, I assume,” Pine said.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy, who is also chairman of the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus, said the city’s buy-in is a “very smart move.”

“When you see the government putting in that much money. When you see the private sector putting in $61 million you know you’re on the right track and for the contribution of approximately $300,000 for the city, certainly puts us on the path to benefit greatly.”

Pine concurs with the mayor’s sentiment.

“Cornwall is setting itself up for the future and taking care of the present with this.”