In a move that could be a seismic shift for communities between Sooke and Port Renfrew, Telus Communications is attempting to extend fibre optic connections to the region.
The area is now severely under-serviced with what is generally acknowledged as poor or non-existent high-speed internet access and spotty cellphone service.
But all that may change if Telus’ application for funding is approved.
“This could be a real game-changer for the region,” Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director, said. “It’s would open up all kinds of possibilities for the region. There’s the possibility of a high-tech industry in the area and for people to telecommute and work from home.”
Dan Hager, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, said that while the community isn’t celebrating yet, he’s hopeful the project gets funding and the fibre optic connections are laid.
“This would expand capacity for both residential and business in Port Renfrew and other communities like Jordan River,” Hager said.
“We all know Renfrew is expanding and there comes a time when you can’t expand without reliable internet. Add to that the Pacheedaht are going to be opening a new school, how do they operate without the connections (to the internet)?”
Hager said the current connections are provided through transmissions from microwave towers located on Salt Spring Island and are notoriously vulnerable to bad weather and other factors.
“Put the cable underground and it’s pretty much bullet-proof,” Hager said.
Telus is applying for funding under two government programs — the Connecting British Columbia Program and to the CRTC Broadband Fund.
Connecting B.C. is funded by the provincial government, and the $50 million program is now accepting applications for it’s third phase of funding.
The federally funded CRTC program is committed to providing $750 million nationally to close what they call the “digital divide” between communities with broadband service and those that do not have connectivity.
As a condition of accessing the funding, Telus was required to submit letters of support from the Capital Regional District, the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, the Pacheedaht First Nation Council, Sooke School District and others.
Those letters were a chorus of support for the fibre optic application.
“Everyone has written their letters of support. It’s something that all the communities — everyone —is looking forward to this happening,” Hicks said.
Beyond the high-speed internet access fibre optics would allow, the installation would have the benefit of facilitating the installation of cell towers in the region. At present, much of the area has no cell coverage, a situation that Hicks and others have pointed to as presenting a risk for travellers on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
“In order to have a cell tower, you need to have internet and electricity. To this point we haven’t had reliable internet as the satellite connections haven’t provided the connections we’ve needed,” Hicks said.
Should the grant requests be approved, the project would be fully funded through the government programs and Telus. There would be no financial commitment required on the part of any municipality or local governments.