Cowichan Station, the Cowichan Lake area, the Ditidaht First Nation and Thetis and Penelakut islands have been identified as being the most under-served in the region for internet and cellular connectivity.
After months of studies and surveys assessing the connectivity capabilities of different parts of the region, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s economic development division and the IBI Group presented the first stages in the development of a regional connectivity strategy at a special committee of the whole meeting on June 9.
Keith Ponton from the IBI Group, said Thetis Island has the largest number of under-served premises of any community examined in the project, followed by Cowichan Station.
He said the Cowichan Lake area has pockets of some very under-served premises, particularly along the north shore.
“Historically, the private sector has been the sole investor in internet and cellular connectivity,” Ponton said.
“This has led to market failure, particularly in locations with low population density that are unable to support the high cost of infrastructure.”
Ponton said relying on private sector investment to improve connectivity is no longer a viable strategy, so municipalities and regional governments that were planning to take a hands-off approach and hoping that private sector organizations would solve the connectivity problem will be disappointed.
“The luxury of that thinking has, unfortunately, passed,” he said.
“There is quite an active role for all levels of government to take positive action to invest in and fund broadband infrastructure, and the federal government has allocated large sums of money on it over the past two years. This summer, we are also anticipating another round of provincial funding that will be allocated towards broadband systems in under-served areas in B.C.”
Brittany Taylor, the CVRD’s acting manager of economic development, said the aim is to have the regional strategy to deal with connectivity issues completed in early August.
She said the areas where connectivity is the worst will be prioritized for further investigation.
“We’re planning a community road show in September where we’ll engage with each of these communities in person to determine their specific needs and aspirations and then develop a road map to improve the connectivity for each one,” Taylor said.
Lynne Smith, director for Saltair/Gulf Islands, said she’s very excited to see Thetis and Penelakut islands at the top of the list.
“This is often the first topic of discussion over on Thetis Island,” she said.