Most residents of the Slocan Valley are going to have high-speed internet service within the year, because of a new initiative by the provincial government.
The Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation plans to lay 125 kilometres of fibre-optic cable from north of Nakusp to the Playmor Junction, bringing fast internet service to more than 20 communities and the rural areas between.
It’s one of two areas in the Kootenays to be early recipients of a $50 million initiative announced Friday by Minister of Citizens’ Services Jenny Sims.
“In today’s digital age, the internet is part of the foundation for growing good-paying jobs, learning, health care and keeping in touch,” Sims said at a news conference in Castlegar. “Our government is committed to a future where everyone in B.C. has access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet.”
Columbia Basin Trust CEO Johnny Strilaeff opened the press conference in Castlegar with a reminder of the not-too-distant past— the sound of a circa-1990s modem ring.
“I see some younger faces, likely that’s not something you’ve had to experience,” said Strialeff.
While the modem may be gone, slow and intermittent internet access remains a problem for thousands of people living up the valley, he said.
“Residents have told us that increasing high-speed internet connectivity throughout the region is important to them,” said Strilaeff. “Our partnership with the Province and local governments will expand affordable broadband availability in the Slocan Valley and South Country area.”
‘Moving about as fast as they can’
The Columbia Basin Trust’s broadband service arm, the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, will receive $4.8 million in provincial funds for the two projects (the South Country project is in the East Kootenay).
Dave Lampron, the chief operating officer of the CBBC, says they’ll now begin working with communities to move planning forward from the conceptual stage.
“We’re planning on using virtually ever method conceivable to deploy the fibre,” he said. “We’re going to be putting it up on poles, using waterways where we can, and trenching fibre in Crown land corridors— keeping the environmental and archaeological concerns in the forefront.”
Lampron says the roll-out will be linear— moving from one end of the Slocan valley to the other— though they haven’t decided which end they’ll start from. However, once begun, it won’t take long to complete.
“They’ll be moving about as fast as they can lay the fibre out,” he said. “The province would like to see a March 31, 2020 completion date. It’s an aggressive timeline, but we’re going to do everything we can to meet those timelines.”
The Slocan Valley project is estimated to cost $7.2 million in total. The rest of the money for the project will be coming from the Trust, municipal and regional governments.
Lampron says the CBBC will work with existing local service providers to help them augment their service to the west side of the Slocan Valley and small communities like Vallican and Perry’s Ridge.
Local politicians praised the province for the initiative, saying they’ve been hearing complaints for years about the poor internet service up the valley.
Nakusp Mayor Tom Zeleznik welcomed the announcement, saying it will support economic development in his village.
“The nice thing is, a recent study said 13 per cent of our workforce in Nakusp works out of their home. That’s nearly double the national average,” he said. “So this is a great opportunity to make our community a more attractive place for people to come and earn a living.”
Not only will the installation of fibre-optic line bring faster and more reliable internet service to the valley, officials say it will also lower the barrier for cellular service providers to enter the area. Most of the Slocan Valley has no cell phone service.
The second project being managed by the CBBC, called the South Country project, will see more than 50 kilometres of fibre-optic infrastructure installed between Jaffray and Roosville. It’s expected to cost $2.9 million.
The province says since July 2017, its Connecting British Columbia project has brought high-speed internet access to 443 communities – including 75 Indigenous communities.