RD lobbies to improve rural internet, cell service

Regional District board seeks UMBC meeting with minister, approves $10,000 broadband capacity study

The Strathcona Regional District is moving forward in its efforts to improve Internet and cellphone service in rural areas of the region.

The regional board will be requesting a meeting with Amrik Virk, the minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, at the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention.

Campbell River director Michele Babchuk said enhanced wireless service was one of the main points discussed during the first Community Health Network meeting in June which brought hundreds of people together to discuss issues that impact health and well-being in the region.

She said UBCM is the opportune time to try and further that cause.

“I just think there is an opportunity for this body, especially in regards to our work with the Community Health Network,” Babchuk said at the July 22 regional board meeting. “We heard very, very strongly that the primary issue coming out of that was connectivity and community services. I think that as a regional district there’s an opportunity to put forward a request to have a meeting with Minister Virk at UBCM.”

This year’s UBCM convention takes place Sept. 21-25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The board’s request to meet with Virk is just one step the regional district has taken recently to improve connectivity across the region.

Regional directors, at their July 8 board meeting, voted to spend up to a maximum of $10,000 on a broadband capacity study to determine where the gaps in connectivity are.

Expanding broadband data services, as well as cellphone service, is a strategic priority of the board’s for 2015 and directors have allocated $2,000 in the financial plan towards that strategy.

The broadband capacity study will investigate the specific limitations to high speed Internet services in the region and identify priority actions so that if grant monies become available, the RD will have an idea of where to direct those funds.

“At present, the SRD has not developed a capacity study to understand the specific technological limitations that occur across the region,” said Russ Hotsenpiller, the regional district’s chief administrative officer, in a report to the board last month. “As such, we do not have enough information to apply in a coordinated manner for broadband projects. It would be advantageous for the SRD to establish a list of priority projects if it wishes to either sponsor or apply for program grants.”