Quadra Island Director Jim Abram is not a fan of the latest proposal from Telus to build cell towers on Cortes and Quadra Islands.
Abram, who has worked to improve connectivity on the island for almost 30 years, is suspicious of the company’s latest bid to bring connectivity to the islands, saying that the project has the potential to undermine the Strathcona Regional District’s Connected Coast project. That project is nearing the beginning of the construction phase, and only requires an approval from the province and funding for the “last mile” connection — the cables that bring the internet into people’s homes. However, Abram says that the Telus bid puts that in jeopardy.
According to Abram, federal funds will be made available to last mile projects that bring connectivity to “unserved” areas, those that do not currently have any connection. Areas of Quadra and Cortes right now are part of those unserved areas and are elligible for the funding. Abram says, however, that if Telus installs the towers on the islands, those areas would no longer be considered unserved, and would not be eligible for the funding from the province.
“All of a sudden, a company that has spent 30 years snubbing us wants to serve us, and they want to serve us in every one of the spots that we have picked as landing sites for the Connected Coast,” Abram said. “That would mean we would not get funding to do the last mile connection, the fibre to the house. We’re screwed basically by this new movement by Telus.”
“It sounds like a rather inappropriate move by a multi-billion dollar company,” he added.
Abram took to Facebook to explain the issue to Quadra Islanders. He wrote that Telus had sent the Canadian Internet Registration Authority a map of the islands depicting where it provides internet services with connection speeds of 50mb download and 10 mb upload, which is the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)’s goal for all Canadian homes and businesses by the end of 2021. However, Director Abram himself saw his home on the map and realized he was not getting those kinds of speeds. Abram asked islanders to send in screenshots of their Internet speeds using an online Internet speed test to either himself or the Strathcona Regional District. He wrote that the images would then be forwarded to CIRA to prove the need for the Connected Coast project.
A representative from CIRA reached out to the Mirror on Friday to say that CIRA was not in fact the funder of the project, and that last-mile funding was to be a part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s new Universal Broadband Fund.
“While CIRA does fund some connectivity initiatives through our Community Investment Program, we believe in this case that the funding program you’re referring to is Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada’s $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund,” said Josh Tabish, Corporate Communications Manager for CIRA.
”Their criteria says that they cannot fund over top of existing services,” Abram’s Facebook post reads. “So if Internet service in the range of 50mb download and 10 mb upload (50/10) already exists at the home it invalidates our application for the funding.”
The Connected Coast project is a $45 million project run by the Strathcona Regional District that will bring Internet connectivity to over 100 communities up and down the West Coast, including around 50 First Nations communities. The SRD recently announced that it had awarded the construction contract for the project, and that it hoped to have the project completed by 2023.
”As far as we knew, there was nothing to stop them from being approved until this came along, and it just threw a giant wrench into the works, which we had to work our butts off to try and counter,” Abram said.
Telus has also recently spoken to other regional districts on the coast, including the qathet Regional District on the mainland, and in the Comox Valley Regional District about a tower project for Black Creek.
Abram said he has received over 75 submissions himself as of Jan. 28, and others were likely sent directly to the SRD. The Regional District has until the end of January to submit comments to the CIRA, which will include the submissions from Quadra Islanders.
This story has been updated.