Fibre-to-Home Season Two: CityWest to the Rescue, Anthony Gregson

Superhero Tony

The chronic issue of inadequate internet on Hornby and Denman islands has taken an interesting and hopeful turn. On Wednesday, February 17th, a new proposal to get fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), was presented at an on-line public meeting by the partners in the BC Connected Coast Project, the Strathcona Regional District and CityWest Cable and Telephone Corporation. The meeting was attended mainly by those on Hornby and Denman who have been actively involved in the internet connectivity issue, and by the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). A recording of it is available to all at The Connected Coast project will deliver a new fibre-optic capacity to our islands.

This $45 Million endeavour will ultimately serve about 160 remote communities, involving 13 Regional Districts and 44 First Nations. It is a partnership of the Strathcona Regional District (headquartered in Campbell River) and CityWest (the City of Prince Rupert’s 100-year old telephone company, now morphed into a full digital entertainment, internet and telecom company), who obtained financing from the federal and provincial governments. This “backbone” project will bring undersea fibre-optic cable from Vancouver across the Salish Sea, through Lambert Channel and on to Haida Gwaii. CVRD has agreed to pay $142,000 to obtain Connected Coast landings beside our ferry terminals at Gravelly Bay and Shingle Spit.The remarkable news from this public meeting is a proposal by CityWe

st to work with the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) to bring “last mile” fibre service to our island homes. If the CityWest plan makes it through the funding and permitting process, 95% of our homes could receive dedicated fibre that delivers internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps (megabytes per second), the highest speed available today. This would be far in excess of the federal government’s national service standard of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. Islanders would not have to pay for the hookup to their property, even if they decide to subscribe after the main install is over. CityWest would sell us its service at the same subscription charges it applies elsewhere on its network. The internet costs from $50 to $140 a month depending on the service bundle. A typical bundle of internet, plus 300-channel television and telephone with 500 LD minutes , n

Superhero Tonyow starts at $93.46 per month. The President of CityWest, Stefan Woloszyn, outlined an optimistic schedule that could see installation on our islands begin next winter.Fibre, Woloszyn pointed out, has the longest life-expectancy and greatest capacity of any technology available, today and into the foreseeable future. It is not only physically rugged, but its capacity will continue to expand as technology advances. Unlike satellite-based technologies, there are no problems with line-of-sight such as trees or hills, and no issues with latency (the ability to deliver service in real time such as Zoom calls). One might add that with fibre installation, internet consumers won’t get different speeds depending on where they live – it will provide a dedicated, high speed service to every premise served. Trustee David Critchley pointed out that after Covid has compelled everyone to meet online, it is unlikely that people will go back to the inconvenience of physical meetings. David Leitch, Chief Administrative Officer of Strathcona Regional District (SRD), cautioned that islanders will need to subscribe for the service in significant numbers to make these “last mile” connections feasible for CityWest. The numbers required are difficult to estimate until final build budgets are done. Great news, but how is all this going to happen? When HICEEC and the DIRA’s Internet Committee first started looking for better internet, the plan was to partner with Telus. Ultimately Telus backed out. Other investors and Internet Service Providers were solicited, to no avail. Also considered was creating an island-owned internet project, but this was abandoned in July of 2020 by the Denman Internet Committee because of the business risk of competition from Telus and others. HICEEC continued to present our problems to CVRD and others for a solution, and with the support of CVRD, the CityWest proposition has developed. CityWest has indicated its confidence that the service it proposes to provide, and the business model it follows, would withstand competition from other telecoms. With the new opportunity, key members of the former Denman committee have recommitted their support. The new plan would look for federal support from the Universal Broadband Fund and for BC support from its Connect to Innovate program to raise 90% of the total costs of the project. It will be critical to the success of this venture that it obtains an additional, critical 10% from the community. Thanks to Director Daniel Arbour and support from other directors, CVRD staff is now working on a report concerning the opportunities available, and whether it can be that critical “community” funder for “last mile” service to the Islands. On the recorded call, CityWest’s Stefan Woloszyn described the possibility that if the CVRD funds the 10% community contribution, and if the project proceeds, 20% of net earnings might go to the community. Woloszyn pointed out that CItyWest is a public utility, aiming to provide community service rather than the profitability focus of big telecoms. Maybe a bit of “blue skying” but another refreshingly positive aspect of the new proposal. The project faces many hoops to be jumped through. The first is getting Hornby and Denman officially included in the Connected Coast project, and this application, backed by CVRD support, is already in the approval process. The permitting process must deal with many interests and agencies such as the Coast Guard and the concerns of