Annapolis County to apply for internet final-mile solutions funds

“We want to reach everyone possible as rapidly as possible,” says Warden Habinski

By Lawrence PowellFor Annapolis County

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NS – Municipal council in Annapolis County has instructed staff to seek provincial funding to extend high speed internet service to remote areas of the county.

LTNetworkThat was always the intent, said Warden Timothy Habinski after council passed a motion Sept. 15 at its regular monthly meeting that would see the county submit a two-part application requesting such funds.

The motioned called for last-mile internet solutions for communities such as Springfield, West Dalhousie, and Milford, but in discussion on the motion, councillors were urged to submit specific roads or communities to the CAO to ensure they are all included in applications.

The two-part application would first ask for funding to extend fibre optic-based internet. If that is declined the county would ask for funding for a rapid deployment of true high-speed wireless internet for the same communities.

The motion was carried unanimously.

“It has always been the municipality’s intention to have our internet program expand over time in order to reach everybody,” said Habinski in an interview. “We’ve said over and over again in public, in public meetings, and in presentations we want to reach everyone possible as rapidly as possible. But we have to do it within our means.”

He said the county’s initial build, which is a core fibre backhaul build, addresses just under 80 per cent of the residences in Annapolis County.

“We always knew that we were going to have to have a Stage 2 in order to reach the remaining homes,” he said. “The remaining homes probably occupy about the same geographical space as the rest of the build, so even though it’s about 20-some-odd per cent that’s left over, it’s probably just as expensive to reach those homes with fibre as it is to do the entire rest of the build. So it was never within our means to extend fibre instantly to everybody. But we intended to do everything we could to reach people with fibre as the system developed and as revenues came in that permitted us to expand it without hitting our taxpayers. Because the last thing we want to do is build something enormous and expensive that forces us to raise our taxes horribly. That was always the intention – was to do this without burdening the taxpayer.”

He said what the application will permit the county to do is see whether or not the province is willing to help them move faster.

“If the province will help us move faster with a pure fibre build, that’s marvelous and we’ll get fibre to everybody as rapidly as we can,” he said. “If, however, the province declines to do the fibre build, we’re hoping the money they provide will let us expand high-quality wireless solutions as rapidly as possible in those areas that don’t currently have adequate service. Even if we drop down to Plan B and do the wireless solution, it’s exactly what the municipality has been intending to do – but we hope with the addition of provincial funding that we’ll be able to do it that much faster.”

Habinski described the project as a flexible ‘design build’ where the County could build just what it could afford with the ability to vary the build as it extended.

“It was designed to be paid for out of the revenues of the system as it expands,” he said. “So its own business case is adequate to pay for it. We’ve borrowed from the Municipal Finance Corporation in order to accommodate the up-front financing of the build, but that loan from the Municipal Finance Corporation is going to be paid back out of the revenues generated by the system.”

He said the goal was to be able to do it without using taxpayers’ money and, if necessary, without assistance from the province and the federal government.

“It’s a system that really puts control in the hands of the municipality. We can move forward. We don’t have to do anything that’s going to be detrimental to our taxpayers and we’re not beholden to the schedules of the province and the federal government,” the warden said. “We can simply move. Now, of course, revenue from the federal government and the province allow us to move faster and further. So we always want to apply for as much help as we can possibly get. But it’s hard. We could do this on our own. It would just take longer.”