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Broadband is still on the agenda, city report due in September
The potential for broadband Internet access in Rossland has excited a lot of public support. Consequently, council recently directed city staff to carefully consider the options tabled by the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC), but staff's report won't come back to council until September.
The regular council meeting on June 11 started with public input from four Rosslanders who expressed strong support for the CBBC proposal presented to council later that evening by CBBC's chief operating officer, Mark Halwa. The discussion continued at the June 25 meeting in response to a letter received by the city on June 13 by resident Sue Wrigley.
Wrigley wrote, "I sat in on Mark Halwa's presentation to the Rossland Chamber of Commerce [on May 9] and the short presentation to Rossland City Council about the CBBC's proposal to bring broadband to the Columbia Basin's communities. I moved to Rossland 9 years ago for the lifestyle and set up as a remote technical trainer and writer. I rely heavily on the Internet and although the service I get at the moment is adequate, I see my contracts changing and requiring faster speeds in the near future."
She continued, "To be viable in the future, Rossland must use every opportunity to attract people to this city. People come here for the lifestyle, but they need to be able to set up businesses here. Not only does Rossland need to stay with the times to attract these people, but also Rossland needs to compete with and work with communities in the area.
"This is an opportunity that should not be overlooked," she wrote. "It is unique in that the base infrastructure costs are being borne by CBBC. The Columbia Basin communities have an incredible opportunity here and I hope that all of the Rossland City Council will realize this and at least go the first step and go through the education and studies with the CBBC as soon as possible."
She concluded, "Rossland does not want to be left behind in this technical age - I believe that bringing broadband to at least the Rossland business district is crucial to our viability as a community in the future."
Halwa recently clarified the CBBC offer: "For $1,250 per month, Rossland would be in charge of its own 100 megabyte connection." He noted that an earlier Telegraph report that used the term "internet utility" in the place of "connection" was not strictly correct. "Establishing an Internet utility would be an extra cost to Rossland taxpayers," he explained.
Nevertheless, he said, “The $1,250 per month provides network management equipment, training and unlimited bandwidth for the City of Rossland’s internal needs. If Rossland wanted to give away connections, they could, but would have to pay for the free bandwidth they would be giving out."
On June 11, council passed a resolution for staff to prepare a report on the feasibility of the CBBC's offer to Rossland.
Coun. Jody Blomme resumed the conversation in chambers on June 25: "It's great to see there is so much [public] support for something we're looking into."
Blomme thanked staff for the time spent on the issue, particularly given the current demands of ongoing projects, and asked CAO Victor Kumar for a "quick update."
Mayor Greg Granstrom said, "Staff is preparing a report. We're getting more info as we go."
Kumar added, "We will present a report to council some time in the next couple months. Sept. 4 is my deadline."
Blomme pressed for more detail: "The report coming back Sept. 4 is great, thanks for doing that. I'm assuming the process is quite long and I assume certain aspects of it have already started?"
Granstrom replied, "Yes, we are moving forward."
Coun. Kathy Moore continued, "I was really glad to see there was so much support in the community and very pleased to see staff is moving forward with this."
She asked, "I wanted to confirm with staff—publicly—that we still have plenty of time to make a decision on this that will best serve the community's needs. Specifically, I want to confirm we still have time to determine the proper installation, whether it's poles or underground, in the street or the alleys, whatever it is. People were concerned about timing."
Moore clarified that she wanted "that concern laid to rest publicly" in advance of city staff's report.
The mayor replied, "There is ample time. The answer is yes, regardless of the end result."
Moore added that she thought it was "really important" to announce the steps the city was taking towards the initiative regarding timelines and advisory groups. She wanted to "put it out to the public what we're anticipating."
She also wanted to communicate to the public that "this is a phased project, and the only thing we're talking about in the beginning is bringing broadband to city hall." She noted that "feasibility for any expansion" will come in later phases.
Granstrom said, "It's worth an item in a newsletter for sure," adding that council was due shortly to produce another newsletter. He reiterated, however, "What council needs to know is that staff is working diligently on this and that's where it's at."
He noted, "Staff's been on this long before it was really public that CBT was doing this."
Granstrom said, "The initial report will be on the feasibility of bringing it to city hall. That is initially what CBT proposed." He also said the staff report will address "how [the deal with CBBC] could transform into other people taking advantage of broadband,"
He added, "We have to be careful about how we task staff with these reports," noting that "resources are getting a little thin," with the Columbia project and other issues at city hall.
Moore agreed, but said, "It's important to convey that we haven't missed an opportunity with this. Whether it's city hall or lighting up the downtown [with fibre], we have time."
Halwa confirmed that he’s been in close contact with the CAO. "We have walked most of the proposed fibre route together and discussed where conduit or poles would be the most cost-effective method of placing fibre,” Halwa said. “I’m sure we will have a report prepared on time that addresses the key issues."