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ABC Communications

Fraser-Fort George Regional District directors were urged take action and make the most of federal, provincial and private sector funding to bring broadband internet to rural areas when a service provider spoke to the board on Thursday.

ABC Communications vice president Falko Kadenbach made note of $750 million over five years from Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission plus a further $50 million from the provincial government committed to the cause.

The goal is to ensure all Canadians have access to speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, as well as access to mobile wireless services including on major transportation roads.

"It's a great opportunity for those two funds to be matched and perhaps another opportunity for local government to also participate at some level," Kadenbach said.

He encouraged directors to form a broadband committee to create a strategic plan for bringing the service to outlying areas.

"The opportunity is for you to start to open that dialogue, start to create a list of communities that should come first and start to look for partners to help with that plan," Kadenbach said.

Northern Development Initiative Trust is administering the provincial portion of the money. Kadenbach said ABC is submitting an application to NDIT for a project to bring broadband to Tabor Lake, Salmon Valley, Mackenzie and Gantahaz Lake via wireless technology.

Kadenbach also talked about the challenges of bringing broadband to rural and remote spots.

While coverage via wireless can be inconsistent, he said fibre optic can be extremely expensive. Even if the cable is strung along utility poles, Kadenbach said that if the poles are too old, "we end up having to replace every single pole at a cost of $10,000 each pole."

In those cases, "going straight to ground" and digging a trench for the cable can be the better option but takes working with local governments.

Prince George director Lyn Hall said the wildfires that have struck the region over the last two summers raise the need for expanded broadband.

"Over the years that's been a real issue for us, not only from an economic perspective but from a safety perspective," Hall said. "We saw very quickly in 2017 that some of the outlying areas that were being impacted by the wildfire had no connectivity and therefore no updates on the wildfire situation that impacted their community."

Kadenbach said he kept a close eye on wireless towers to make sure they did not get burned to the ground.

Following Kadenbach's presentation, directors voted to apply to NDIT for funding to develop a strategic plan.