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County invests over $1 million into rural Internet project

Farmers in Essex County will soon be able to count on fast Internet service

By Jennifer Jackson

Soon, rural residents in Essex County will be surfing the web at high speeds. The county’s council voted to invest $1.1 million into a project that will provide rural communities with increased high-speed Internet and broadband fibre optic cable coverage, according to a CBC article.

The Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus initiated the SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology) project in 2011. Since then, the project has gained a number of partners, including various towns and regions, and health and academic institutions, according to the SWIFT website.

The benefits SWIFT will bring to the county makes the large investment worth it, according to Tom Bain, Essex County warden.

"(SWIFT is) something that's going to certainly help us with our economy here," he told CBC.

In 2016, the provincial and federal governments together pledged a total of $180 million for the SWIFT project, according to the company website. The entire project is expected to cost $281 million.

Counties such as Essex will receive a partial cash rebate from this provincial/federal government funding once SWIFT is completed. Essex will be eligible to reclaim up to $702,843 of its $1.1 million investment upon project completion.

Brian Gregg, chief administrative officer for Essex County, encouraged the council to waive this rebate to ensure the project receives a large amount of funding, according to the CBC article. Councillors, however, voted to wait and see the success of the project before making any financial decisions on reimbursement.

The SWIFT project team plans to begin construction in early 2018, according to an emailed statement from SWIFT.  

“We’re scheduled to begin our Request for Pre-Qualification/Request for Proposal (RFPQ) process this spring, with the first stage in the RFPQ expected to be released on or about May 12, 2017. The RFPQ process will determine the exact location of existing infrastructure and service gaps.

“The location and amount of fibre-optic infrastructure built in each community will be determined by the final overall design of the project, as informed by the RFPQ process,” the statement says.

Internet is a valuable resource – especially in the farming community, according to SWIFT.

“Connectivity is crucial to modern farming. Farmers have always been innovative and agriculture is increasingly dependent on complex, responsive technology – from soil-mapping and weather data to sensor-based livestock management tools, everything needs to be connected across a network and to the Internet,” the statement says. “Farmers need to be able to send, access and analyze large volumes of data from anywhere, at any time, in order to ensure efficient, sustainable and high quality operations.”

Internet access has been a hot topic in rural Ontario in the past few months. In the winter of 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) claimed that access to broadband Internet is a “basic telecommunications service for all Canadians.”

Also in the winter of 2016, Better Farming interviewed Geoff Hogan, executive director of SWIFT, to discuss the importance of rural Internet to farmers and the steps of the project to address this need. has reached out to Essex County and SWIFT for more information on how rural Internet users will benefit from the project. 

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