ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Contract negotiations have slowed construction of a new fibre optic Internet backbone for Annapolis County, but Warden Timothy Habinski said the contract work is necessary and it’s almost done.
Once everything is signed, work can start immediately and residents can get connected as the countywide high speed Internet project proceeds.
“We’re still in the process of contract negotiation. That’s a process that’s taken longer than we anticipated that it would, for the simple reason we’re the first municipality in Atlantic Canada to attempt something like this in this field,” said Habinski in an interview. “Because we’re blazing a trail we had to get our heads around an entirely different sort of contract law. The process of contract negotiation has been lengthy and we’re not rushing our way through it for the simple reason that there’s a $13-million potential liability attached. So when we do this we want to ensure that our constituents get the exact results they need and that we don’t saddle them with a liability that makes life more difficult.”
Habinski has no doubts about the county’s ability to get the project done.
“We’ve got the capacity to do this. We can do it within the authority we currently have,” he said. “We’ve got the right partners in place, and I’m certain we can do it without incurring unnecessary liability – but none of that happens fast.”
The warden said the project has not gone away, despite a seeming lack of visibility on it.
“People of course don’t see what’s actually happening in the municipality at both the staff level or the council level, but this has probably occupied more time than any other single issue over the past year,” he said. “We’re constantly working at this. Staff is constantly working at this. It’s not become fiction or become smoke. It’s just a lot of this work had to be confidential.”
The county is working with a corporation, Nova Scotia Power, the province, and the federal government.
That the high speed Internet is needed is not in question. At a town hall meeting in Bridgetown in September it was the number one concern of residents.
A lot of the contract work had been completed by late last fall, but there was more work to do. This time Habinski believes it’s just about completed.
“So I think we’re right there now. I think it’s entirely possible we could have everything done within a week, but it’s also entirely possible something else could come up that would stretch it out a little further,” he said.
Once the contract work is done, work building the backbone would start immediately.
“We’ve already got 20 kilometres of fibre optic cable here,” Habinskli said. “It’s already ready to roll. The moment the contract is signed the first make-ready work projects for Nova Scotia Power will have to be put in place too because they have to prepare to make sure our lines of access are clear for the lines we want to hook up. So there’s a little bit of last-minute coordination to do with them, but we’ll be rolling right away.”
He said it’s the intention to be signing clients immediately.
“Once the contracts are done, within a very brief window of time, we’ll have the first people on the new system,” he said. “We light it up as we go. And we anticipate it to take 18 months to do the full backbone fibre build. If the weather stays like this and we have more warm days and less precipitation than in other years it could take less than that.”
The fibre optic backbone will incorporate four towers using point-to-point technology that will experience no drop in speed for users. Those are necessary to get the Internet to more remote areas where fibre optic cable would pick it up again.
There will also be a tower in Inglisville that will be mainly sending a signal easterly in the Valley floor using technology similar to Lawrencetown’s broadband wireless. Customers of that service will have small dishes on their homes to receive the signal at speeds of 15 mbps and possibly as high as 50 mbps if LTE (long-term evolution) is used.
But most homes in Annapolis County will be able to tap into the fibre with speeds up and down at 1,000 megabits. Commercial speeds will be 10 times faster.
The project with local company Mainland Telecom has the county borrowing $13 million with applications in for federal government funding to pay the rest. The plan is for users of the system to pay back the borrowed money over $10 years, with taxpayers in the county not footing any of the bill.
Habinski has been fielding questions from residents wondering about the status of the project.
“No municipality in Atlantic Canada has taken on an Internet connectivity project on anything approaching this scale before, and we are learning as we go,” he said in a letter to a Paradise resident. “Indeed, no other municipality in Atlantic Canada even now is attempting anything like it, though we anticipate many are waiting in the hopes of following in our path once the heavy lifting is done.”
He said the municipality gets one shot at it, and he wants to double-check the paper work.
“If we get it right, we launch our municipality into the forefront of the nation for connectivity,” he said. “If we get it wrong, we fail to address the needs of our citizens, and saddle them with $13 million in liability.”
He said the county is going as fast as it can go while still being prudent.
“We hope our constituents will feel the final product justifies the wait,” he said in the letter.