On Monday evening, Coun. Jody Blomme expressed her "passionate" interest in hooking Rossland up to the high speed Internet framework offered by the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC), and council agreed with Blomme’s proposal to receive a presentation by the CBBC's chief operating officer, Mark Halwa.
Council to consider a broadband fibre optic Internet service
Halwa's presentation to council will likely include information he presented at the Chamber of Commerce on May 9—attended by Blomme and Coun. Kathy Moore, among other interested Rosslanders—but the presentation will also give council a chance to ask specific questions about how the CBBC's plans may or may not intersect with city goals.
Blomme argued that broadband will make Rossland a "very attractive" place not only for digital-based industries, but to "every industry," from furniture builders to asphalt pavers.
As Internet-based workloads allow more people geographic freedom in their choice of residence, Blomme noted, "more and more people are shopping for a place to live" based on lifestyle choices. "Rossland is a prime lifestyle place to live," she said.
While there are companies "that would like to do more business out of Rossland," she said, "there is a lack of bandwidth for the services they need." These services range from video conferences to Internet "clouds" that maintain back-ups of vast quantities of important information on remote servers.
She pointed out that the CBBC is "willing to fund the majority of the infrastructure … and they're doing most of the work, including taking on an advisory and training role."
"This is an amazing opportunity," she concluded. "For myself, I'm very passionate about this."
Blomme's comments came on the heels of a council discussion on the importance of core services—water, sewage, and roads—relative to the other services the municipality provides. Mayor Greg Granstrom emphasized, "core services are a big thing we need to get back to strongly."
Halwa and others argue that uninhibited access to the information superhighway should be considered a core service whose impact on a town's viability, and a region's, will increase dramatically in the near future.
Nevertheless, the mayor expressed reservations. "It's important to note that [Halwa] has also discussed some of this with staff," Granstrom said, referring to Halwa's presentation to CAO Victor Kumar and other city staff approximately seven weeks ago.
Halwa reported three weeks ago that of the 16 municipalities to whom the CBBC has presented, 14 had already expressed strong interest or had taken the first steps towards an agreement with the CBBC. Rossland is one of the two municipalities that were still holding back at this time.
The mayor continued, "If there were sufficient demand for this service, it would be in already, now, with Telus or Shaw. The fibre is right at the courthouse … There very well could be a value, no question, but there is a price."
Blomme replied that Halwa could address these points "very comfortably."
Coun. Kathy Moore added, "I second everything that Coun. Blomme said." Moore reported strong demand in the community and said that Mark Halwa's presentation at the Chamber showed how the CBBC's business model allows it to respond differently to the market forces that have so far guided Telus and Shaw.
"The future waits for no one," Moore said.
Coun. Jill Spearn said, "I am also highly in support of the conversation around broadband. We would be very foolish to be left behind as a community."
She continued that she heard about broadband when she first ran for council in 2005 and entrepreneur Brian Fry asked specifically about the issue at an all-candidates forum. "It's been that long that the conversation has been [going on]," Spearn said. "We really don't want to miss the digital bus."
The mayor responded, "Brian Fry was involved with CMON [Columbia Mountain Open Network], and CMON were the original proponent of this. CMON went bankrupt."
CMON was founded in 2001 and had received substantial support from Columbia Basin Trust (CBT). Last fall, CBT acquired CMON’s assets and set up the CBBC to manage and expand these assets and to steer a new course for the regional broadband venture.
A date for Halwa's presentation to council has not yet been set.