Burns Lake council has decided to establish a stakeholder committee that will create strategies to improve cellphone and Internet services in Burns Lake and surrounding areas and seek funding to implement them.
The committee will include representatives from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), local First Nations groups and other key stakeholders.
“One of the issues that is increasingly important to all communities is connectivity,” said councillor Michael Riis-Christianson during a recent council meeting. “It is probably one of the most important factors that businesses face these days and a key building block for economic development.”
Given the fact that Burns Lake offers affordable housing compared to other parts of the province, Riis-Christianson believes that if cellphone and Internet services improved, it would help attract Lower Mainland companies and workers wishing to work remotely from Burns Lake.
“It definitely opens up opportunities,” he said.
“The new economy that we are looking around the world is knowledge based and IT based,” he continued. “Communities that have access to reliable high-speed Internet will be the ones that are participating in that economy.”
“Given the importance of connectivity and the economic issues that we’re facing in the next few years, it would be important for us [council] to participate in this committee,” said Riis-Christianson, referring to the significant reduction in annual allowable cut to local community forests that is expected to take place in 2020.
“Even though it [improving connectivity] is not part of our current economic development strategy, it should be a part of our next economic development strategy,” he added.
Regional district directors Bill Miller (Electoral Area B) and Eileen Benedict (Electoral Area E) have already expressed interest in partnering with the Village of Burns Lake and other stakeholders on this initiative.
During a meeting between the RDBN and village council last week, council approved a motion to invite CityWest to do a presentation to both council and the local RDBN area directors.
“They [council and local RDBN directors] are interested in learning more about connectivity improvements that CityWest has recently completed in Telkwa,” explained Sheryl Worthing, chief administrative officer for the Village of Burns Lake.
Earlier this month the provincial government announced a $40-million investment to extend high-speed Internet access to rural and remote areas of B.C. The federal government has also announced that it will invest $500 million by 2021 to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities thorough its ‘Connect to innovate program.’