RDN asked to support sub-sea fibre project that will provide internet to rural communities on Vancouver Island and the B.C. coast

The Connected Coast project is set to begin laying fibre, starting in Prince Rupert, this spring. The project is anticipated to be completed in 2023. || Photo courtesy of Connected Coast
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The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has been asked to provide a letter of support for a project which will help provide internet service to remote communities on Vancouver Island and along the B.C. coast.

The Connected Coast project will run sub-sea fibre cables from Vancouver, around the island and north to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. 

It will have beach landing spots in the RDN, according to David Leitch, chief administrative officer for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), who provided a delegation to the RDN committee of the whole on Jan. 12.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) aims to provide all homes with access to broadband internet speeds of at least 50mbps for downloads and 10mbps for uploads, according to its website.

“There are many areas in the Strathcona regional district that don’t have this. There was a strategic initiative of our regional district for many years and we went and made applications to the Connect to Innovate (CTI) program,” Leitch said.

The RDN does not have under-served communities on the cost, but Leitch said the project will still bring benefits to the district. The new fibre will provide redundant networks in Nanaimo, which he said can be useful to industries that need 24/7 internet access, such as the port authority.

“It is an open access network for the internet service providers to connect to to create competition within the space and resiliency amongst the network,” he said.

There are three proposed beach landing sites in RDN municipalities; the city of Nanaimo, Bowser and Qualicum Beach, according to Leitch. He said there will also be military landings and First Nations communities. The cable will cross many First Nations and, according to Leitch, provide economic opportunities.

The project will be funded by the federal government’s CTI program, Indigenous Services Canada and the province. It will cost a total of $45.4 million, according to the Connected Coast Website. It is managed by the SRD and CityWest, a telecom company in Prince Rupert. On Jan. 7, Connected Coast announced Baylink Networks will be the prime contractor for designing and building the project.

Leanne Salter, area F director (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington), questioned Leitch on public consultation in affected communities.

“We are in that process now. We weren’t able to do a lot of consultation because we never knew we fully had a project until the contribution agreement and the funders had signed off on the project,” he said, adding that more public engagement can be done at the request of local governments.

Leitch said fibre will begin being deployed, starting in Prince Rupert, this spring.

As part of the delegation, he requested RDN support for permissive tax exemptions and said the project would not be viable without exemptions from regional districts.

The committee of the whole voted to defer the motion to provide support for the project to its Feb. 9 meeting.

By the end of this year, the CRTC expects 90 per cent of Canadian homes to have the minimum internet speeds of 50mbps for downloads and 10mbps for uploads.

“We expect these targets will be met through a combination of the CRTC funding mechanism, private investments, other government funding, and public-private partnerships,” reads its website.

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