BARRHEAD - Residents in select areas of the County of Barrhead will soon be able to access faster, more reliable Internet.
On June 2, the county and MCSnet announced they are partnering on a project that will increase the amount of fibre Internet trunkline to the county's Kiel Industrial Park; the hamlets of Neerlandia, Thunder Lake and Manola; and for residents around Lac La Nonne.
MCSnet is an Alberta-based Internet service provider (ISP) specializing in serving rural communities.
All totalled, through the project, MCSnet will be increasing its transit fibre in the county, as part of this project, by 58 kilometres.
As part of the agreement, the county will provide 50 per cent of the funding, $583,250, to extend the ISP's existing network infrastructure to the county. As a result, the municipality will then have access to all of MCSnet's network infrastructure in its region to provide Open Access to other ISPs.
The total cost for the project is pegged at $1,628,900. The county's contribution will come from reserves.
Construction will begin later this month, and the enhanced Internet services, if everything goes as planned, will be available by December 2022.
County manager Debbie Oyarzun said the county started to look for potential partnerships to help improve Internet coverage in the municipality after council approved its Rural Broadband Policy in February 2022.
"That allowed me to go out and explore opportunities, funding and partnerships," she said, adding she did that with the aid of Tango Networks, which provided technical expertise.
Oyarzun noted she had discussions with several ISPs, but in the end, it was MCSnet that came forward after they learned about the county's Rural Broadband Internet Policy, asking them how they could help advance the municipality's Internet initiative.
"They gave us a proposal outlining a couple of options and how we could leverage a project that they were planning for 2022," she said, council then considered the options during multiple in-camera sessions.
Oyarzun added that when the ISP approached the county, council was drafting a strategy based on its Rural Broadband Policy, deciding what their priorities would be, and more specifically, what areas the county would target for fibre or wireless Internet projects.
"(MCSnet's proposals) completely mirrored the draft strategies we were looking at," she said. "It is something that we did not expect to happen this quickly, but it was an opportunity and such a perfect fit that we just couldn't pass up."
As for why they chose to target those specific areas, Oyarzun said adding Kiel Industrial Park to its list of higher priority areas was easy.
"We were looking at ways to market Kiel, and if it is lit up, it is going to attract more companies that would use the site for more than lay down — companies that need that added Internet connectivity," she said, using GFR Ingredients was a prime example.
In April, the county announced that it had sold two Kiel lots to GFR Pharma, the owners of GFR Ingredients, a producer and supplier of plant-based proteins.
The company will use the property to expand its current operations, which would be impossible at its Town of Barrhead location as it is landlocked.
"We also know that the northern part of the county, towards Neerlandia, is really struggling with reliable Internet, more so than other areas," Oyarzun said, adding "After that, we looked at servicing our more populated areas, which added Thunder Lake, Manola, and the northeast area of Lac La Nonne to the mix.”
She added that Johnson Industrial Airport will be included in the project.
In the June 2 media release, MCSnet's chief executive officer Jerico VanBrabant agreed with Oyarzun, saying the county's approval of its Rural Broadband Policy, was the key to the partnership.
"We applaud the County of Barrhead in its foresight by passing its (Rural Broadband Policy)," he said. "Building transit fibre is the first step in providing enhanced broadband to county residents."
In the same release, reeve Doug Drozd noted that the partnership with MCSnet made sense, saying that the company had already invested significantly in the county's broadband Internet infrastructure with 18 fixed wireless towers and 60 kilometres of transit fibre.
"It only makes sense to partner with them to add to their existing infrastructure and provide our residents and commercial customers with enhanced high-speed Internet."