Local success stories

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Stratford: Ontario’s technological innovation hub

Stratford has been running their own Internet service since the 1990s, when they first installed optic fibre. In a strategic move, the Ontario city was able to direct the money initially earned through its data utility, Rhyzome Networks, back into the project itself, expanding by 50 per cent and introducing 1 Gbps connections to schools and other public services.

This, of course, meant Stratford saved even more money. Through its network, a strong wi-fi connection has also been widely available at over 300 locations, while Rhyzome Networks' merger with the regional Wightman Telecom in 2012 has meant that Stratford has since seen fibre availability expand across the entire city. Stratford also operates a smart-meter program and offers a leasing program to ISPs and co-op networks.

Things weren’t always smooth sailing for Stratford though, which initially saw opposition from the province of Ontario. Averting privatization, Stratford took up an innovative alternate approach: the city participates as sole shareholder to two private companies, a hydro company to operate the electrical system and a service company to serve as the data utility.

The city’s mayor, Dan Mathieson, had this to say of a people-led Internet: “The data that flows across those networks is going to become part of everyday life, if it hasn’t already. If you can’t entice commercial entities to do it, then government should look at how they can play a role in advancing public broadband.”

With all the funds Stratford has saved by claiming their Internet for themselves, they’ve reinvigorated rural medical services and opened the doors of a satellite campus for the University of Waterloo which is dedicated to advancing digital technology. Operating Rhyzome also lead to the creation of 700 new jobs.

Their network has also reinvigorated Stratford's second strongest claim to fame, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, by outfitting this fair with web-based services and expansive online marketing like never before. In 2013, Stratford made the list as a Top7 Intelligent Community.

Olds: The first to offer gigabit Internet

Olds is a winning case of a community taking the Internet into its own hands.

This Alberta community is running O-Net, their very own community-owned and operated Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, and setting a high bar for municipal Internet utilities around the world for nearly a decade. Municipally-based broadband has really put Olds on the map.

The town, located roughly 90 kilometers north of Calgary, has even started to attract tech-savvy entrepreneurs away from its big city neighbour. And no wonder, as Olds boasts service fees that are cheaper and faster than Calgary’s major telecom providers, offering lightning-fast fibre optic speeds for as little as $90/mo unbundled. In comparison, Shaw in Calgary can't match those speeds for that price, and don't offer true fibre options — meaning you're paying more for less quality.

O-Net’s services also expand beyond just Internet, including phone and IPTV services (movies on demand with stop and play features). In Olds, this subscriber-friendly, small-scale network is the clear choice, and an example to be followed by others.

This Internet innovation has done a lot to boost community wellness and economic prosperity in the town of Olds. Through their Internet, voice, and TV self-sufficiency, Olds has been able to funnel million of dollars in funds back into its own community.

With the help of a $2.5 million Government of Alberta grant, Olds has put together an impressive network based out of the town library, extending outward to Olds College — where enrollment is steadily climbing. Its campus wifi is premium quality, enough so that all textbooks are web-based and read on iPads provided to the students. Not bad for a school that a decade ago was struggling to give Internet access to full classrooms!

And the best part? The Internet in Olds is truly people-driven. The O-Net website puts this best, encouraging potential subscribers to: “help pave the way for your future, and the future of many generations to come. You, the citizens... own this story.”

Coquitlam: B.C.'s fibre trail blazer

In 2008, Coquitlam, B.C., became the first-ever municipality in Canada to lease out its unused fibre optic capacity to telecom service providers through the Coquitlam Optical Network Corporation — or QNet.

In this way, the fibre optic cables within Coquitlam power community services and also provide fibre to other companies in an indirect supplier relationship. The philosophy is simple — with the infrastructure there, why not provide the best framework for all who want to participate, and in turn improve their services?

The best part, of course, is that the revenue feeds back into the community who uses QNet broadband, too.

Coquitlam residents are able to access Internet from a large number of various providers for low prices — some plans are even as cheap as $20/mo. This means city services and private household connections are all performing at increased speed and capacity on the network, making ultra-fast file downloads, instant streaming, and razor sharp HD viewing a regular expectation in Coquitlam. Overall, QNet has saved the city $360,000 a year since it first started up in the community.

They’ve even gone on to help out neighouring communities by allowing their companies to piggyback on QNet’s cable network, such that more accessible Internet is now available in Surrey, at the University of British Columbia, and even on Vancouver Island.

Eastern Ontario Regional Network: A real, rural network

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) emerged to meet the urgent need of major areas across Eastern Ontario for effective, faster Internet.

This project, which involved all levels of government as well as the private sector, has been headlined by the Eastern Ontario Wardens Council since it first started in 2010. This network now proudly offers high-speed Internet to at least 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Eastern Ontario, covering a 5,500 km span with 160 access points. This is an area equivalent in size to the province of Nova Scotia.

EORN is a monumental example of filling the gap between urban and rural access, and also closing what is commonly a jarring price difference for the same service. Through EORN, rural Ontarians are no longer facing this digital injustice. In fact, even areas that cannot be reached by wireless or wired connections are connected to the network via satellite, an option which is now more affordable than ever before.

And the need for high-speed Internet has only continued to grow since EORN began to address this problem. According to its CEO David Fell, “When we started in 2010, Netflix didn’t exist in Canada and now 40 percent of the Internet traffic is people using it for Netflix.” Currently, EORN provides service to over 300,000 people, including four out of six First Nations within the region.

Campbell River: Mission to reduce broadband costs spurs innovation

The “Salmon Capital of the World” has a new claim to fame: Its very own municipal broadband network.

In 2017, Campbell River became the first municipality on Vancouver Island to operate its own Internet network. The city partnered with AEBC Internet Corporation to create the Campbell River (CR) Advantage program to make fiber optic Internet services available to city residents and businesses.

The city took on the project not because of a lack of connectivity, but rather to lower bills for consumers, said Warren Kalyn, Campbell River’s information technology manager.

“We did approached the telcos and had a discussion with them about how we could mitigate the high broadband costs as much as possible,” said Kalyn.

“We got very little response back from them other than their business model is the same for any rural or urban center. The catch here is basically that they incorporate the cost of capital and construction into there monthly billing which can be quite high. This meant that small communities like ours would be hit hard with these initial high costs.” 

City council gave staff the directive to start looking for options that would alleviate the cost issue and municipal broadband networks kept coming back as best option.

“Our system is an open access broadband network,” said Kalyn.

"It allows the city to install fiber infrastructure through various business in our downtown core. Then we lease access to wholesale service providers to come in and sell those services to the connected buildings and clients.” 

The revenue that comes back from the lease access helps to drastically reduce rates for broadband access as well as other multiple Internet service provider (ISP) services. By taking on this project Campbell River has eliminated the capital cost that is usually associated with monthly billing that ISPs use and the savings are passed on to consumers and downtown businesses.

“We are putting into our new building bylaw that all municipal communications conduit must be placed into all new building communications rooms going forward beside the other telcos such as Shaw and Telus.”

The upstream provision is being addressed next were a large subsea cable will be brought into the east island area from the Vancouver exchange which would be “a game changer for this community and wholesale providers. This was just approved with the connect to innovate initiative. Campbell River will be one of the primary landing spots for that to tie into our data center. Getting a straight connection to the exchange is going to be amazing.”

Kalyn stressed the goal has been to get the cost of broadband down.

“We came in line with the same approach as the CRTC has taken with making sure that costs are reduced through competition and not regulation and we’re embracing that, said Kalyn.

“By allowing wholesale service providers to come on and access our data center has substantially reduced the cost of these services in Campbell River so it does work. “We’ve also seen the telcos become incredibly competitive now too. They have competed against us on a number of building access and there prices have dropped substantially in order to be competitive so it's basically a win win situation. If we lose a contract to a telco at least we’ve seen a substantial reduction in cost here.”

By Mike Roy