Merrickville-Wolford council has provided Bell Canada with a letter of support endorsing their application for funding from the federal government to expand broadband internet in rural and underserved areas.
Bell Canada is one of many telecommunications companies and organizations who are applying for funds from the federal government’s $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), for projects bringing high-speed internet to rural and remote communities across the country. The UBF is part of the government’s High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, which aims to provide 100% of Canadian businesses and households with 50/10 Megabits per second (the speed needed to take full advantage of modern internet) by 2030.
According to Mayor Struthers, Bell has indicated that if they are successful in their application, they will invest in expanding their current fibre network in the Village into the rural area. This would give another 880 homes in the municipality internet speeds of 1.5 Gigabits per second, the fastest in the country and well above the federal government’s 50/10 Mbps goal. Bell confirmed that rural Merrickville-Wolford is included in their application, and that residents will not have to pay for standard service installations. There would, however, be a one-time activation fee if they choose to subscribe to a Bell service plan.
Merrickville-Wolford is not the only municipality which received this request from Bell. North Grenville also received letters from Bell and Ottawa-based company CENGN, which Mayor Nancy Peckford brought to the attention of council at their meeting of March 2. Mayor Peckford has been a staunch advocate for increasing rural broadband in the municipality for years, as there are many rural residents in North Grenville who struggle daily with internet access.
“Without the letter of support from the municipality, these applications are much less strong,” she said at the meeting. “So, to that end, in discussions with the Deputy Mayor and [CAO Gary Dyke], we felt that at this point it is prudent to provide a letter of support where staff have deemed the applications credible, and at this point there are just two on the table here, for which I think our letter of support would be valuable.”
Mayor Struthers also suggested that Merrickville-Wolford council provide the letter of support to Bell, but he did check in with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), which has also made an application to the UBF, before making the recommendation. EORN is a not-for-profit organization created by the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus (EOWC), whose “Gig Project” has the goal of providing 1Gbsp internet to 95% of homes in Eastern Ontario by 2025-26. The project is expected to cost $1.2- $1.6 billion and they are looking for federal, provincial, and private sector funding to make it happen. Representatives from EORN assured Mayor Struthers that fixing the internet issue in rural Eastern Ontario will require a variety of solutions, and that Bell’s application should not hinder their own plans.
Although Councillor Timothy Molloy agreed that expanding high speed internet into the rural area of Merrickville-Wolford is important, he expressed some concern about the exact location of the fibre expansion. “There is lack of service, especially fibre, in Wolford and we should be looking to get that taken care of, as compared to going east, let’s say,” he said.
Councillor Bob Foster reminded Councillor Molloy that if Bell did expand their reach to 880 more homes in the municipality, it would greatly improve access for most residents. “In that case, with 1,100 households in Merrickville-Wolford, they’d be reaching the majority,” he said.
Applications for the UBF are due on March 15, and projects that are successful in receiving funding must be complete by March 31, 2027.