By: Mike Anderson

It’s been called “the fourth utility,” and is an essential service for most Canadians. But if you live in a rural area in Georgina, you probably have lousy internet service.

That means everyday tasks like online shopping, banking, or watching streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus, are either an exercise in frustration or just not possible at all.

“Businesses and residents across Georgina continue to experience poor internet connectivity with many of the internet speeds well below the CRTC minimum threshold,” says Shawn Nastke, the town’s head of Corporate Services Delivery Excellence.

By 2021, the CRTC wants 90 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses to have access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps (megabytes per second) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

However, Mr. Nastke says that many rural residents in Georgina experience download speeds below 5 Mbps — that’s ten times slower than the CRTC’s minimum service levels. At 5 Mbps, a 10 Mb file would take approximately 16 seconds to download – which would try most people’s patience.

“We’re very limited,” says Derek Holden, who lives just two kilometres from Keswick on Pollock Road. “The service shuts down six or seven times a day. It’s very intermittent. Good for emails. But as far as enjoying high-speeds and the options of real internet, it’s just not there.”

Mr. Holden is an Internet Lake Simcoe (ILS) customer, and with that ISP shutting down operations by Nov 30, he’s scrambling to find other options — including musing about building his own 85-foot wireless tower which he estimates would cost him $4000.

In Pefferlaw, Tim Long, who lives on Snoddon Rd, tries to get by with download speed averaging 1.7 Mbps. He says Netflix is out of the question. “I can get email. I can get a bit of video, but I’ve got to sit there and wait till it buffers,” he says. “A dial-up modem is faster as far as I’m concerned.”

Derek Holden at Town’s Connect to Innvovate Session

Poor connectivity is not just a problem for rural residents; it’s also an issue for smaller municipalities, like Georgina, trying to attract business investment.

Mr. Natske says research shows that providing fast and affordable internet connectivity across both urban and rural communities fosters economic growth and job creation.

“In some cases, businesses choose not to come to a community that lacks adequate internet services,” says Mayor Margaret Quirk, who’s also board chair for YorkNet, a fibre-optic infrastructure company wholly owned by York Region. “It’s something that we need to move forward on and have a strategy in place to figure out just what to do and how we want to do it.”

The town’s 2020 draft budget has allocated $75,000 towards hiring a consultant to help draft a broadband strategy and action plan for the municipality.

According to Mr. Nastke, this will help determine how to “best leverage” the over 50 km of dark fibre – basically unlit fibre-optic infrastructure — due to be installed across Georgina by YorkNet.

Red line illustrates YorkNet network route

However, YorkNet’s promise of lighting fast connectivity is nearly two years away – it expects to “light up” the network by April 2021.

And there are some major caveats. YorkNet’s federal funding stipulates that the network will only extend to Udora and Georgina Island.

While folks living along the route should be able to connect to the network, that will depend on smaller, private ISPs, like RuralWave and Vianet, building an off-ramp and linking it to the home.

That costs money. And, as the ISPs are careful to point out, it may only happen if there’s a good business case. In other words, you may have to get your neighbours to sign up before you can get connected. Vianet, for instance, requires 10 to 12 customers per kilometre before its economically viable for them to provide service.

And one last thing, while there may be existing fibre optic cable in your area, that probably belongs to one of the big players, like Bell, and YorkNet’s dark fibre network is not compatible – so there are no short cuts to be had there.

In the meantime, the town is asking residents to complete an internet speed survey, which will help it identify gaps in service. The survey runs until Nov 30 and can be found at georgina.ca/broadband.

The town is also offering to help ILS subscribers who are facing a service disruption after Nov 30. In January, it will provide them – through its wireless network — with short-term internet service at market rates. To be placed on the list, call 905-476-4301 and speak with staff in the IT department. While it’s a nice gesture, most folks won’t be able to wait that long.

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