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MoPC disappointed it was denied gov’t funding for rural internet

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The Municipality of Pictou County will not be getting the provincial funding for its high speed internet work it said was promised.

MoPC has been developing a high-speed internet network for the past three years that will deliver high quality and affordable internet service to our residents.

“It essential for the rural areas of Pictou County to be treated the same as other areas of the County when it comes to modern communication. Our residents require this service for business operations, education, health and even entertainment. With COVID0-19 and the recent tragedies in Northern Nova Scotia, modern communication infrastructure is more than a convenience, it can be the difference between life and death,” said Warden Robert Parker.

The Municipality decided to build and operate its own network, mainly because it wanted the entire municipality to have access to high-speed internet. In the past, some of the large companies have delivered service where enough homes are clustered, leaving many less densely populated areas unserviced simply because it is not profitable.

It will cost millions of dollars to build the network and the County had been planning on its share of both provincial and federal funding to offset some of the capital cost. Both levels of government have set aside large blocks of money to promote projects to help deliver the essential service. Federal applications are pending, and the County is working with Central Nova MP Sean Fraser to help secure these funds.

The provincial government put the high-speed internet money in the Nova Scotia Internet Trust Fund and appointed Develop Nova Scotia (DNS) to recommend projects to the trust. DNS, in turn, set up a competition for qualified bidders to bid for the dollars. The MoPC was advised that it was the successful bidder based on its submission and was to negotiate for the project and the dollars. No negotiations took place, rather DNS, reevaluated the submission and eventually, the County was informed that they had been dropped from first place to second place. The reason given was that the County had listed too many homes as underserved. At 11,500 unserved, DNS said that only 5,500 were unserved and wanted the County to greatly reduce the size of its project.

“That is really what it is all about, DNS wanted us to reduce our project but we couldn’t, we had made a commitment to all our people and we are determined to keep that commitment,” said Parker.

The County insists that the number of unserved homes is much greater than DNS numbers show, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s numbers are much closer to the County.

The Provincial Government has said that Pictou County will receive none of the trust money set aside for the very type of project that it is determined to deliver. DNS has clearly stated that if the Municipality backs away from its project, there would be provincial money available to other proponents to deliver the same service in Pictou County.

“For whatever reason, the numbers just seem to be an excuse; the provincial government, using DNS, seems determined that our municipality should not receive a fair share of funding for this critically important project, but funding would be available if the network is run by others,”  he said.

An appeal was made to Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan to examine the fairness of this decision, knowing DNS was new at the internet business and mistakes could be made. MacLellan met with County representatives in early January and seemed to understand the situation and promised to investigate it and report back. Despite many letters of support from neigbouring urban municipalities, Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network, Pictou County Chamber of Commerce and private businesses, the Municipality has received no response from the MacLellan.

“It seems like a dead-end road. What is most disappointing is not to hear back from a provincial minister of business, when business in our county would benefit so much from this project. We have asked them to work co-operatively with us. Our county is still committed to continuing this project without provincial funding; however, it is very disappointing that Pictou County is left out by the provincial government, with no funds from the $193 million trust coming to our municipality,” said Parker.