MP Jamie Schmale, left, Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin, Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen, Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton and MPP Laurie Scott during an announcement regarding the next steps of the EORN cell gap project outside the WIlberforce library branch on March 19./CHAD INGRAM Staff

Rogers successful bidder on EORN project

By Chad Ingram

Rogers Communications is the successful bidder on the contract for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project, with some work on the massive project, now valued at more than $300 million, anticipated to get underway this spring.

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott, along with HKLB MP Jamie Schmale, joined municipal politicians from Haliburton County for an announcement in Wilberforce on March 19.

“We’re going to see people here, and in our communities, have such an improved quality of life, for our businesses, for people, personally, to connect with so many services,” Scott said, praising the partners involved in the project. “… This is, I think, a big game-changer for the people of Haliburton County.”

Schmale noted the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the county’s lack of reliable internet and cell service.

“We saw, even pre-pandemic, the need for all of that,” Schmale said. “But now since the pandemic has really kicked in, we really see the need for quality high-speed internet and cellular service.”

“It’s been a long time coming in helping produce another piece to that puzzle,” Schmale said.

The public-private partnership project will include upgrading existing towers and the construction of 300 new cell towers throughout eastern Ontario and aims to ensure 99 per cent of the area has cellular calling service; that 95 per cent of the area has sufficient coverage to run video and applications; and that 85 per cent has the capability to stream high-definition video. The project has been in the planning and fundraising stages for more than four years, with the provincial and federal governments each contributing $71 million. Municipal governments throughout the area are contributing $10 million (the County of Haliburton up to $565,000), and while initially it was expected a private sector partner would contribute $61 million for a total project value of $213, it was announced last week that Rogers will contribute $150 million, pushing its total value past $300 million.

The entire project is expected to be completed within five years, with heightened connectivity achieved in some areas in the interim. Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin is a member of the EORN board, and said the project would allow for other providers, including some smaller ones, to piggyback, installing their equipment on the towers.

“There are going to be some things happen in this calendar year,” Devolin said during last week’s announcement. “I think what will happen with Rogers, now … I think they’ll do their best before the year’s out to roll out a timeline across the region, and of course all 13 regions are wanting to know when it’s coming to them, and I think they will be able probably, before the end of the year, to give us a lot more specific information on that front. We’d love to know all the answers today, but it’s just not possible yet.”
EORN is owned by the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus, which includes 13 municipal governments, of which the County of Haliburton is one.

Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen sits on the EOWC board.

“It’s so perfect that today is a sunny day and we can all be outside and celebrate something that means so much to us all,” Danielsen said. “I have been really proud to work with the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and the EORN board, as well as their team. It’s an extraordinary group of people and they have worked so hard on our behalf, and this is going to mean so much to all of us here in Haliburton County, and in fact all of eastern Ontario, from businesses to our economy to schooling, kids trying to home-school. It just means everything to all of us, and it’s truly a great day for Haliburton County.”

The request for proposals for the project was issued in April of 2020. According to EORN, 40 per cent of the area it serves does not have access to speeds fast enough to allow the streaming of HD video; 20 per cent does not have access to standard definition video typical mobile app use or video app calling; and 10 per cent has no voice calling service at all.