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Weighing pros, cons of internet delivery services

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In-ground fibre-optic cable is a no-lose proposition that will serve Norfolk County well into the foreseeable future, Norfolk council was told Feb. 16.

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Brent Wallace, Norfolk’s head of IT, shared his assessment during a discussion of extending high-speed internet into underserviced areas of the county.

“There is more and more need for bandwidth,” Wallace said. “(Fibre) can handle a lot of information and storage. There is no end in sight for that medium. It’s more to do with scalability.”

Council drew on Wallace’s expertise following a presentation from Marc Noorenberghe of LaSalette.

Nooreberghe is a tech aficionado who recently signed on to the Starlink internet pilot project. Nooreberghe said the Starlink system and its thousands of satellites could be the internet-delivery system of choice as soon as the end of this year.

Noorenberghe questioned Norfolk’s commitment of $1 million toward Rogers Communications’ bid to secure federal funding to extend fibre-optic internet to 9,100 underserviced properties in Norfolk, most in rural areas. Council has also committed a letter of support to Rogers’ bid under the $1.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF).

Wallace said the Starlink network is promising and has applications in difficult-to-reach parts of the planet. However, he doesn’t know how it will perform as an increasing number of uses are found for the internet, not to mention civilization’s bottomless appetite for bandwidth through streaming services, the internet-of-everything, portable devices and other applications.

Wallace described the Rogers’ proposal – which could cost as much as $50 million according to CAO Jason Burgess – as “a huge success” and a “big win” if funding is approved.

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“Fibre is definitely the way to go,” Wallace said. “Fibre is the medium of choice.”

Noorenberghe recently installed the hardware necessary to establish Starlink in his home. He’s pleased with its performance. Noorenberghe said he recently participated in a video call while downloading content from two streaming services. He said the Starlink system passed the stress test with flying colours.

Starlink is a futuristic project under the leadership of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who also manages the Space X satellite-delivery system.

Simcoe Coun. Ryan Taylor has followed Starlink’s progress and is excited by its potential. But Taylor added there are challenges, noting that other companies with the same idea have run out of money.

“There are still a lot of kinks and concerns to iron out,” Taylor said. “If Starlink goes bankrupt, what do we do then?”

Council went behind closed doors to discuss legal issues surrounding Norfolk’s support of Rogers’ proposal. Council’s motion last week suggested the county’s $1-million contribution would be earmarked for Rogers’ bid.

To stay on the right side of provincial legislation, county lawyer Paula Boutis suggested re-wording this to back any internet provider willing to extend high-speed internet to under-serviced areas. Council approved the suggestion.

Mayor Kristal Chopp said Rogers’ proposal remains Norfolk’s best shot to bring the entire county into the 21st century. She noted that the South-Western Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative’s second-round of intakes will require a $2.7-million contribution from Norfolk to service far fewer properties over a longer time frame.

Chopp also noted that Starlink’s in-home hardware package costs about $1,000. By comparison, Rogers is willing to extend fibre-optic cable into Norfolk homes and businesses as part of its proposal.

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