SCUGOG: Councillors heard numerous concerns from local residents over the proposed Scugog Island Internet project at a packed Public Information Session on Thursday, Nov. 26.
The session started with a full presentation of the plan and a demonstration by Tim St. Pierre of Communicate Freely showcasing some of the add-ons that could be included in the packages such as emergency broadcasts transmitted through the phone, as well as television over the fibre network, an idea still in the pilot stage.
During a question and answer period longtime communications company owner Ron Compton said he likes the idea of the project, but has some concerns as a local taxpayer.
“The entire township is being asked to take the risk on this, so I think there needs to be some milestones established in order to get some comfort,” he said. “I don’t believe (the township is) going to do it for the numbers that (council) has presented. I would like to see milestones like signed contracts with bandwidth providers in place and building your model with more than a 15 per cent contingency factor in place.”
Mr. Compton also added that the township needs to ensure the business model works if there is an increase in capital costs or if less users sign up than the township has expected.
Mr. St. Pierre replied that he has had quotes from bandwidth providers and is just waiting for permission to sign them.
Project manager Laura Bradley said that the township has not yet been able to move to the next step in the project because the Municipal Services Corporation had not yet been finalized.
Mayor Rowett expanded on that point, adding that, after the corporation is set up, the township could then go to a request for proposal process to get quotes for the overall cost of the project.
“We’d bind them by those numbers and follow those quotes. We are going to know before we put any money into it on whether it is going to go over budget or not. We won’t proceed with the next steps if the project ends up to be five times over budget.” he said. “There are areas in the strategy where we can pump the brakes. We are not going to throw money at something and just light it up at the end, it’s going to be lit up as we go so that we are generating revenues.”
Resident Gary Landon questioned how the township will ensure that the Municipal Services Corporation offering the service will remain competitive in the market.
Mayor Tom Rowett responded, saying that the corporation will be run by experts in the field.
“It will have to be run like a business,” he said. “There will be qualified people in that corporation that will
run it with business experience and it will have to be competitive because the last thing you want to do is create the market share and then not be competitive.”
William Lennox, President of the board of directors for Pine Point Lane Ltd. asked what the timeline is for the township to bring the service to Scugog Island.
Ms. Bradley responded, approximating that work will begin on the Island late next year.
“If we are able to move forward and close the agreement, the timeline for procuring would be early next year and then it would have to be built obviously,” she said. “We are looking at an operation timeline for parts of the Island by the fall of 2016.”
Mayor Rowett told The Standard that he is confident that the project can be a success.
“If I didn’t think it was viable, I wouldn’t be taking council through this, (Laura Bradley) would not go through with this if it wasn’t viable,” he stressed.
On Monday, Nov. 30, the Scugog Island internet project moved closer to becoming a reality, as council approved a motion to authorize township solicitors to set up the holding and operating companies for the service.
The holding company will be named Township of Scugog Broadband Network Inc. and the operating company will be known as Scugog Communications Inc.
As well, a motion to request for expressions of interest from providers across Durham Region was approved at the meeting as well, with interested companies given 10 business days to respond. The idea came up as an amendment proposed by Ward 4 Councillor Wilma Wotten.
“My basic reason for this is that if there is someone out there that can provide this service to the township for little or no cost to the township, then we should at least explore and ask them if they could,” she said.
Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew said she supported the amendment because she wants to ensure council does its due diligence and doesn’t just accept Communicate Freely as the only option for the municipality.
“I fully support this because I have said on many occasions my concern with council supporting one provider and that’s been the only one presented, when I know that there have been two other expressions of interest that have never reached this council,” she commented.
However, Ward 2 councillor Janna Guido wondered if the support to provide the same service was there in the community.
“If there was a provider out there who was willing to provide this Gigabit service, then I’m confused, why they haven’t come knocking on our doors?” she asked.
Local residents can add their input on the project through a survey regarding the initiative, which is currently on the township’s web site at www.scugog.ca.