Speeding up the North's info highway: Blue Sky Net seeking feedback on internet service.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay
 
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Susan Church believes the complexity of getting Northern Ontario residents connected to fibre-optic internet service, considered by most to be the fastest available, can be summed up with an analogy.

Picture travelling on a 400 series highway, with a farmhouse in the distance as your destination. To get there, you can't just drive off the highway directly to the farm. You have to first exit onto the nearest cloverleaf, and then find an access road. From there, you have to navigate your way to the sideroad where the farmhouse is located and, finally, the driveway that takes you to the house.

"It's no different with fibre connectivity," said Church, the executive director at Blue Sky Net (BSN) in North Bay.

"You have those main fibres that run through the province, but you don't just chop into them and, bam, you have internet. You have to backhaul them; you have to find ways to connect to them; you have to find junctions where these wires will connect."

The problem is compounded by the exorbitant cost associated with installing new infrastructure, which is typically a public-private endeavour jointly supported by the federal government and internet service providers like Rogers or Bell.

But that doesn't mean that Blue Sky Net has given up on trying.

BSN was incorporated in 2002 as a regional economic development organization.

As ICT services increased in importance to area communities, its mandate narrowed to focus on increasing access to broadband services across unserved and underserved areas. It's one of five such organizations scattered across the North.

In September, BSN received $1 million from FedNor to keep operations going for the next three years.

To date, the group has helped to realize projects in more than 150 communities in its catchment area, which includes Nipissing, Parry Sound, Sudbury East and the Township of Muskoka Lakes.

Yet there's still lots of work to be done.

"I don't think a lot of the gaps have been closed," Church said of service across the North. "The problem is, if it was inexpensive, if internet service providers could afford to do it on their own, it would be done. Therein lies the problem."

There are two major challenges Northern Ontario faces when it comes to installing fibre, Church said: the area's rugged topography-the vast lakes, hills, rocks, and trees --and its geography--there are far distances between populations.

According to BSN's Broadband & Associated Infrastructure Mapping Analysis Project...

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