The Strathcona Regional district has reached one of the most important stages in the local portion of the Connected Coast program: funding it.
Big picture-wise, the goal is to build a fibre optic cable network that will bring high speed internet to around 150 communities along the coast and on Vancouver Island. Locally, they are looking at providing the infrastructure that connects the individual communities to that backbone network. That’s what this funding is for.
“There’s huge interest in getting this last mile infrastructure in place,” said Tom Yates, corporate services manager at the SRD. “That’s part and parcel of the whole raison d’etre of the whole Connected Coast project: providing high-speed internet capability.”
The SRD is looking at two proposed agreements to fund the last-mile connection in the communities. In Tahsis, Sayward, Gold River and a portion of Quadra Island the district will be contributing 100 per cent of the financing, which will be repaid over time by City West — the telecommunications company who is a partner in the project.
“They’ll pay any debt costs that we incur, principle and interest,” explained Yates. “Basically, the regional district would secure all of the funding through that contract with CityWest.”
“These were communities that were deemed non-eligible for senior government funding,” Yates added.
That arrangement is very similar to that the SRD has with Vancouver Island Regional Library to fund the construction of the new Campbell River library.
Cortes Island, Zeballos and a different part of Quadra Island will be funded differently.
“These are areas that were deemed to be eligible for last-mile funding from senior government because their download speed didn’t meet the required minimum,” Yates said. “In those cases, the Regional District will be contributing 10 per cent of the estimated cost of last mile funding. In return, the regional district will receive 20 per cent of the net profit from those operations for the next 20 years.”
As of Wednesday morning, these agreements have not been adopted by the SRD board, but are on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, but Yates does not expect them to be held up. Also on the agenda is a loan authorization bylaw, which will give the district the ability to borrow up to $12 million to fund the last mile construction. That bylaw will have to get elector approval through an alternative approval process.
“It’ll be up to the public there,” he said. “We don’t anticipate too much push back, because typically if it’s not going to cost the public any money they’re less incentivized to object. It is totally up to them though, if they want us to do this or not.”
Update: this item was presented on the May 12 meeting, but the SRD had not heard back from the Inspector General about the bylaw. As a result, the item was deferred until after the board hears about the Inspector’s decision.