Rural residents wait for fibre internet rollout

THUNDER BAY — Some rural residents who have waited for years for high-speed internet service may be receiving good news in the coming months.

Recent government funding announcements have paved the way for the extension of service to more underserved areas around Thunder Bay.

Details of the timing of various projects, and specifically which areas will be included, have not been released yet.

Tbaytel and Bell have both received funding for service expansion, but not in the same areas.

Tbaytel has already succeeded in accessing government funding streams to support broadband expansion in rural areas.

A spokesperson noted the most recent examples including areas surrounding Thunder Bay as well as Marathon and Terrace Bay, and told TBnewswatch the company anticipates more announcements in the near future.

In April, the federal and Ontario governments announced about $36 million for high-speed internet in rural parts of the city as well as Shuniah, Oliver Paipoonge, Neebing, O’Connor, Gillies and Conmee.

They said this would make service available to nearly 2,600 homes and businesses.

In August, Bell announced plans to deploy its fibre network to homes and businesses in underserved parts of Ontario in conjunction with the provincial government’s Accelerated High Speed Internet Program.

The Thunder Bay and Kenora vicinities are among the locations identified in the Bell announcement.

A company spokesperson said Bell is still working with the province to finalize the boundaries of the expansion locations.

Bell’s project won’t be completed in all communities until the end of 2025.

The Municipality of Neebing’s clerk-treasurer, Erika Kromm, says many residents are anxious to receive high-speed service.

“The province is trying to have everyone with a minimum of 50/10 [50 Mbps download speed and 10Mbps upload speed] by 2025. So I think in the next couple of years you will see a lot of work on that stuff,” Kromm said.

She speculates that Tbaytel will roll out service in the northern part of the sprawling municipality where it already has customers, while Bell will implement service in the southern portion.

In 2019, the federal government announced a Universal Broadband Fund which it said would help telecom companies provide high-speed internet to virtually all underserved parts of the country by 2030.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski has stated that “Absent any government infusion of money, the economics just aren’t there for bringing internet access to really remote areas.”

Powlowski singled out the Lakehead Rural Municipal Coalition for its efforts to bring high-speed service to Oliver Paipoonge, Shuniah, Neebing, O’Connor, Gillies and Conmee.

In January last year, the province announced funding for the extension of Tbaytel service to rural parts of the City of Thunder Bay, and to over 1,700 addresses in Oliver Paipoonge.

Later in the year, Tbaytel received federal funding to bring fibre to nearly 700 addresses in the Intola and Gorevale Road areas, and to unorganized townships north of the city.

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