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Push for northern broadband increases after AMO Conference

Broadband internet was the hot topic at this year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference, with members of northern Ontario still feeling left out. 

Bill Vrebosch, North Bay city councillor was the city’s representative at the virtual conference held earlier in the week. He says that the need for improved broadband connectivity is more important than ever at this time. 

“That came through very clear from all municipalities: if we’re going to keep kids at home and from school outside of town, we don’t have to be running to different places. We can work from home and it’ll help us stay here in the north,” Vrebosch said. 

The councillor adds that connectivity is an issue in North Bay as well. 

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“I think that one of North Bay’s biggest drawbacks is that our internet coverage here is not good enough to bring business here,” he said. 

The AMO conference is a yearly event that has members from municipalities across Ontario meet with federal and provincial ministers about issues that affect cities and towns around the province. Vrebosch says that this year’s virtual meeting had some issues. 

“I found it intrusive. You had to sit in front of a little 12-inch screen for four or five hours, and a lot of ministers when we were on these calls were answering from their cars,” he said. 

Vrebosch adds that the majority of the conference was focused on broadband internet. 

“The Premier mentioned it in his speech, the ministers of industry and commerce all mentioned it in their speeches. You could say broadband was the focus of that whole conference,” he said. 

Right now, the company, Blue Sky Net is the company largely responsible for implementing broadband in northeastern Ontario. The company was founded in the late 1990s as a means to bring internet connections to the rural and remote areas of northern Ontario. 

Vrebosch says that Blue Sky Net has more power than he’s comfortable with. 

“Federal money comes in through FedNor, but the cities and towns that are supposed to be serviced by Blue Sky Net, never know where the money is, how it gets here, where it’s spent,” Vrebosch said. “We need to know where the money is and where it’s being spent.”

If North Bay wants to draw people into the city, which will be able to reduce property taxes, Vrebosch says that it will be reliant on internet connectivity. 

“If we can bring people out of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and they want out of the GTA – it’s too congested, it’s too full. But if we can’t offer broadband that will allow them to move here, they will not be able to move here,” he said. 

Vrebosch says that it will still take some time to implement a broadband system that caters to the entire province. He is hopeful that the discussions at the AMO conference were productive in moving things forward. 

“To me, there should be a seamless connection between the southwest, the southeast and the north. It should be a seamless provincial program that we all get the same service at the same time,” he finished.

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