BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — On June 19, Bill Walker, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, and Lisa Thompson, MPP for Huron-Bruce on behalf of Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, announced a major step in the expanding of broadband internet in Bruce, Grey and Huron Counties with the Request for Proposals (RFP) by Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Inc., a regional broadband expansion project initiated by the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and delivered in partnership with member municipalities and the government of Ontario and Canada.
"Many more residents living in under-served areas of Grey County will soon have access to faster, reliable internet services," said SWIFT's Manager of Communications and Stakeholder Relations, Melissa O'Brien. "Today, SWIFT took another major step as it announced the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for $16 million to improve access to high-speed internet County."
This program is part of the government’s commitment to expanding access to broadband internet in rural areas and makes way for up to $36.8 million in broadband infrastructure expansion. “This is terrific news for residents in the rural areas of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Through this investment, we can continue to take steps to bridge the digital divide and improve quality of life for our local residents,” said MPP Bill Walker. “COVID-19 has reminded us how critical reliable broadband is to work, learn and connect with friends and family.”
“Broadband has now become a necessary utility as essential activities such as work, education, shopping and accessing public services continue to move online,” says David Mayberry, SWIFT Board Chair. “Our current reality has emphasized, more so than ever, the importance and need for greater connectivity across our region. That is why SWIFT, in partnership with the Government of Ontario and Canada, along with our municipal partners are pleased to announce that access to high-speed internet will soon be a reality for many more residents living in Grey County.”
“Grey County is excited to know residents across our county are one step closer to greater access to reliable high-speed broadband service with the advancement of the SWIFT project in our area,” says Grey County Warden Paul McQueen. “Access to high speed internet is crucial to business, education and our overall way of life. We are thrilled to see this valuable project advance.”
“This is indeed welcome news to rural residents in Huron-Bruce, especially during the pandemic,” said Thompson. “Minister Hardeman and his team have been working hard to bring high speed internet to our area and we are seeing the fruits of that work.”
“Without a doubt, this is a difficult time for all Canadians. Access to services, opportunities to connect in isolation and telework depend on access to high speed internet. That’s why our government’s investments to-date are connecting a million households in Canada. SWIFT is one of hundreds of our partner organizations that are working hard to connect Canadians. We are proud of partnerships like these that allow for this work to move ahead,” said the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development.
“At a time when people have become more dependent than ever on broadband, having access to high-speed internet is critical,” said Allan Thompson, SWIFT Board Member and the Chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association. “SWIFT, together with our community leaders and local service providers, is committed to bringing Southwestern Ontario’s under-serviced communities online and high-speed internet access to thousands. Today, as result of our public-private partnerships, SWIFT is proud to announce that many more homes and businesses in Bruce, Grey and Huron Counties will soon have greater access to reliable internet services.”
Prequalified service providers have until July 10, 2020 to submit network designs and proposals to address broadband service gaps in eligible funding areas throughout Grey County. To identify high-quality projects, SWIFT will evaluate all eligible proposals against a predefined assessment criteria. When evaluating and selecting projects for funding, SWIFT takes into consideration the following: ability to provide 50 Mbps down, 10 Mbps up (50/10) service or greater, number of premises passed, future scalability of the network, and service provider contribution proportion, among other project selection factors. Selected and approved projects will be announced once SWIFT has completed its evaluation assessment, negotiated contracts and awarded funding to projects that score the highest based on the evaluation process.
Operating on a cost-sharing basis, SWIFT will leverage federal and provincial funding to subsidize up to a maximum of 2/3 of the eligible costs for awarded projects to deliver reliable internet to more people living in Grey County. Work also continues toward bridging the gaps in broadband access across Southwestern Ontario, as part of a combined $190 million investment to bring fast, reliable internet to thousands of homes and businesses.
"Creating more ways to strengthen rural economies is part of the government's plan to build Ontario together," states a Bill Walker, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound media release. "Reliable and affordable broadband internet will allow communities to attract new development, strengthen local economies and create more well-paying jobs and opportunities in rural Ontario."
According to the Ontario government media release, the Broadband and Cellular Action Plan is expected to generate up to $1 billion in total investment over five years, resulting in new connections for up to 220,000 homes and businesses. This will lead to community, social and economic benefits well beyond the provincial investment.
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