Town wants Internet proposals for rural service

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Internet service providers that want to place their equipment on water towers are invited to submit a request for proposal after Saugeen Shores councillors rejected an exchange of services deal recommend by staff with MaxISP to provide affordable high-speed Internet service to small pockets of rural Saugeen Shores residents. The company currently provides the Town with internet service.

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Deputy mayor Diane Huber urged councillors, meeting as general committee Jan. 9, not sign the MaxISP agreement, which included a $1 annual lease fee, but to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to determine the value of the tall towers.

She pointed to existing leases the Town has with Bell Canada and BMTS, including one at the municipal airport that generated $14,000 for the Town when the Bell equipment was installed in 2014 – she was unsure if there are ongoing monthly lease payments.
In 2011, Huber said the Town signed 20-year leases with Bell for equipment at the Southampton and Port Elgin fire stations that generate $19,000 annually, or $360,000 over the 20 years.
A lease with BMTS for use of the Town building at Perkins Park in Southampton generated $40,000 for the Town at the time of the 2008 agreement signing, Huber said.

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“I don’t think we should give away incredibly valuable real estate at the top of the water towers for a dollar per year without some pretty due diligence on what the value of that facility or that opportunity, could be,” Huber said.
“This is a for-profit company,” Huber said referring to MaxISP, adding any agreement should include “a recognition in the value attributed to the location that is, I believe, much beyond one dollar a year.”

Coun. Cheryl Grace agreed with Huber and suggested the RFP should include providing service to a larger range than the five kilometres in the MaxISP agreement, and clauses concerning site interference need work.

IT manager Darren Hill said MaxISP just recently added equipment on grain elevators in Port Elgin and the flour mill in Southampton and it now wants to serve residents in what would be a seven-to-10 kilometre area.
Hill said while allowing more than one provider on the towers would make it difficult to co-ordinate and prevent interference as many providers use a limited range of unlicensed radio frequencies.

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While he sees “merit” in issuing an RFP, Hill said they have to be very careful as they have a small limited amount of space on the towers and don’t know what kind of interest an RFP might generate.
Hill said the “crux” of the issue is balancing use of a known provider with the need to maximize revenue from the towers.

Mayor Luke Charbonneau agreed they should issue an RFP to answer all of the questions raised. He noted it’s important to remember that the province is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar expansion to connect every one in Ontario and that he sits on the SWIFT board that is expending broadband service in rural areas.
“There’s a lot of internet service providers in play now and there may be some opportunities developing out there that we’re not aware of and if we go with to an RFP we’ll hear back and get some good options,” he said.

Staff will report back with a proposed RFP at a future meeting.

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