Cell tower project approaches a time crunch, says EORN

James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The effort to improve internet service for eastern Ontario has brought more than $30-million in infrastructure to Haliburton County so far.

Lisa Severson of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) told county council when it met May 8 that the project’s overall value will be more than $300-million when complete.

The goal is to have 99 per cent coverage in the demand area where people live, work, and travel on major roads. That’ll ensure they can make a phone call when they need, especially in emergency situations, she said.

In 95 per cent of that area, there’ll be a service level that will support email, web browsing, and social media applications.

People will be able to access video conferencing, streaming, and other data intensive applications in as much as 85 per cent of the eastern Ontario region covered.

“We’re building a network, so towers are dependent on each other to make the network fulsome and work properly,” Severson said.

Ensuring the network’s viability often requires negotiated land leases with private landowners or municipalities, she said.

“We do not have towers being built on Crown land,” she said.

There are still 11 outstanding land use agreements (LUA) that need to be completed in Haliburton County.

“We’re kind of getting to a crunch point at this time,” Severson said. “The project needs to be completed by 2026.”

Much work in site preparation and other regulatory tasks need to be carried out after an LUA is inked. All that work takes time.

And that’s before the final process of constructing the towers.

“We’re getting close to a point where, if we don’t start moving on some of the towers and the LUAs, it’s going to put completing those towers in jeopardy,” she said.

She said that of the 11 LUAs yet to be finalized, three are nearly done, three are in the public consultation stage, and three are in the pre-public consultation stage with planning staff. Three others have yet to start any of the process, she said.

“We appreciate what’s been done to date and we know that everybody is busy at the municipalities,” Severson said. “If there’s any way that EORN can help you with that process, let us know and we’ll try to help out.”

Councillor Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills, asked if the cell towers will be capable to host high speed broadband service.

Severson said cellular equipment was funded when contracts were negotiated with the provincial and federal governments.

“But that equipment can do both,” she said.

Rogers Communications, in its business plan, will determine where the broadband service will be rolled out, she said.

“They may not do it on every tower, but they are offering in some areas their broadband,” she said. “So we can try and find out more information what that looks like for Haliburton County. I do know that there is a need for it here.”

Warden Liz Danielsen asked for more information about the difficulty of acquiring Crown land for the project.

“It just seems that quite often if there’s any level of dissatisfaction with a location, people want to know why not on Crown land,” Danielsen said.

Severson said erecting towers on Crown land would trigger the environmental assessment process for the entire EORN project.

“All 257 sites,” she said. “Not just the one site that would be potentially on Crown land.”