County-wide high-speed internet coming

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—On June 30, 2020, County Councillors were presented with a plan to expand broadband internet availability into areas of Haldimand where it has previously been unavailable. During this first in-person council session since the pandemic arrived in March, Council approved an agreement with KWIC Internet. The deal includes a $15 million interest-free loan to KWIC, to be paid back to the County within 12 years.

The plan comes at the end of a bidding process that saw three competitors face off for the contract. Due to the highly technical nature of the service, the County worked with third party consultation to assist staff in understanding the requirements of the project and to facilitate objective decision making in reviewing the submitted proposals. Part of the process of creating the plan included public meetings to make sure the project would meet the needs of the community.  The goal is to provide consistent high-speed service at affordable rates within three to five years across the county.

One issue raised in the meetings was how much financial support the County should provide to the successful service provider. Options ranged between offering no financial support at all to issuing an interest free loan with a grant attached.

The three companies had to submit their proposals by June 5.

KWIC Internet had the highest score for its proposal, so they then entered into negotiations with the County between June 15 to 24.

During the negotiations, various components of the submission were clarified and amendments were made where necessary. The end result of this process is the finalized plan presented to Council, with staff recommending approval to enter the next stage of planning. According to staff, the final draft met all of the minimum technical and financial requirements set out in the original outline. Council voted unanimously in favour of the plan.

“Staff, in conjunction with feedback from legal, technical, and financial consultants, are confident that KWIC Internet is well-aligned to provide internet access to all underserviced areas of the County,” said Mark Merritt, General Manager of Financial and Data Services in a press release. Now that Council has agreed in principle to the deal, County staff will work with KWIC to finalize and execute the Project Agreement.

Other than the total of the loan amount, financial specifics on how the funds will be used were not made available to the public due to the proprietary nature of the information. Technical requirements released publicly include:

  • Ability to meet required minimum speeds of 50/10 Mbps for download/upload respectively, achieved through fibre to the house and wireless towers in more remote areas
  • Unlimited broadband service to 100% of underserviced areas of Haldimand County
  • Construction timelines that can realistically ensure that the complete network is built and operational within five years
  • Regular monitoring of service quality and customer satisfaction during construction
  • Qualified project management and co-ordination with technical/civil engineering teams

In addition to the technical requirements, KWIC will need to ensure they meet financial requirements related to offering competitive pricing, with the target price set at $115 a month per home for unlimited internet at the required speed. While there was some discussion for the possibility of bundles with telephone and television, there was no set price mentioned..

“This is incredibly positive news that has been long-awaited by many. Bringing high-speed internet to rural communities will help bridge the ‘digital divide’ and have long-lasting impacts for residents, businesses, and potential economic development across Haldimand,” said Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt. “I look forward to the construction stage and seeing this critically important project come to fruition.”

Despite his optimism however, Hewitt made a point during the session to state that the County is not entering into a business partnership with KWIC. Instead, the County is involved in helping facilitate the necessary infrastructure that will provide residents with a service they need.

“I will be making sure we achieve everything we set out to achieve,” said Hewitt.