The board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) has approved a plan to spend $100,000 on a grant application for improved internet service across the area.
The application is for a Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Broadband Fund grant for millions of dollars over the course of a few years. In total, the Broadband Fund is worth $750 million.
The CRTC offers the grants to help improve internet service in remote or rural areas of the country.
The decision, made at the board’s July 18 meeting, is the latest move to try and provide faster and more reliable internet connections.
The $100,000 allotted for the application includes $75,000 for detailed engineering studies and consultant fees; $20,000 for legal fees, incorporation fees, administration costs and travel; and $5,000 for directors’ remuneration, travel and staff overtime.
The funds “will get these projects ‘shelf ready’ for the construction process and will aid in the grant application process,” as John Illes, Chief Financial Officer told Lakes District News.
That money would come out of the Northern Capital and Planning Grant, for which the RDBN received $5.8 million in late March.
In preparing the application the next step is forming a working group of staff and directors to provide oversight for the project and meet weekly for several months.
That group would also seek to form a joint venture agreement with a commercial partner that has at least three years experience in providing broadband internet.
Part of the process would involve “prioritizing smaller construction projects out of all the possible projects in the electoral areas for inclusion in the first grant intake. Example areas could be Perow, Highway 35, South Houston (Buck Flats) and Colleymount,” an RDBN document said. Engineering and logistics plans would be included for each area as well.
Some directors were not enthusiastic about the time commitment required in the grant application process.
Illes acknowledged that the application would be time-consuming.
“This could involve a lot of staff time, and additional projects that come forward after this will probably have to be held back. This could involve a lot of director time as well. After two months we’d have a better estimate of staff time and cost.”
Michael Riis-Christianson, Director of Electoral Area B said he supports the application even if it will take up a lot of time.
“In my area internet is mentioned as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – issue on peoples minds. If we’re going to participate in this new, knowledge-based economy we really need to be doing something about it.”
The grant bid follows two previous studies on broadband expansion across the RDBN.
Sandbox Systems last year completed the “Better Broadband for the RDBN” study, which recommended building a fibre internet backbone from Prince George to Smithers and parts would branch off to serve smaller communities along secondary highways. That study cost $25,000.
TANEx Engineering is finishing up a second, more detailed broadband study for the RDBN which is expected to be released in August and estimated to cost $27,500.
The RDBN board decided last December to put on hold a $42 million proposal to expand fibre internet across the region.
The proposal will be revisited as part of the CRTC grant application process, said Curtis Helgesen, Chief Administrative Officer.