County rejected for rural internet funding

Community Featured

The Municipality of the County of Pictou has called upon other local municipalities for letters of support after the county lost funding for its current rural internet project from Develop Nova Scotia.

According to Warden Robert Parker and a press release sent out by the county, the MoPC initially had funding for the project awarded by Develop NS, which oversees the distribution of government funds for rural internet projects. Develop NS has now revoked the funding.

“We’ve held back on this since early January,” said Parker. “We played it out and played it out trying to get (Develop NS) to listen to common sense.”

In order to be able to apply for the funding, Parker shared that the county had to get qualified then put in a bid through a tender process where the lowest bid for the service would obtain the money.

This past August, the MoPC found out that it had been the winner for the Pictou County area to receive the money. After this period negotiations were set to begin. In October, Parker said they were then told that they were not meeting the qualifications and were bumped to second place, losing the money.

“According to Brian (Cullen, CAO for the County) there wasn’t really any negotiations,” said Parker.

He added that there seemed to be an issue with the numbers of unserved and underserved customers in the county with the county giving higher numbers than DNS. Parker said that for their unserved and underserved client numbers, MoPC is supported by their own testing as well as the CRTC, whereas DNS was using other lower numbers.

Parker went on to explain that he believes the DNS numbers are broken down to hexagonal areas of the county to determine coverage, giving the example that because the county office has high-speed internet the rest of the homes in that area must, which is not the case.

Parker cited this difference in numbers as to what he believes is the cause of MoPC losing the project funding.

“We’ve said to people very clearly we want everyone in Pictou County to have access” (to high speed internet), said Parker.

A response by DNS via email shared their take on the situation.

“Through the negotiation process, the financial terms of their proposal were changed by the Pictou Consortium to the extent that it was no longer the best value bid received in that region. Develop Nova Scotia was unable to recommend proceeding to fund the Pictou Consortium project on that basis,” said Deborah Page, director of Marketing and Communications for Develop NS.

Page acknowledged that DNS and the County have a shared objective of making internet available, they feel the need to ensure that the public funding is “expended in a responsible way to ensure the best value is achieved.”

“While we recognize it is not the outcome they desired, this decision was reviewed in detail with the Pictou Consortium and they acknowledged the issue that resulted in this decision,” said Page. The timeline given by DNS is slightly different, however, with the municipality sharing its intention of proceeding with the project in October as Parker shared and then sharing this again with DNS in March of this year.

Page also shared what the future plans for the funding will be for the time being.

“Following the conclusion of our negotiation with the Pictou Consortium, Develop Nova Scotia could have proceeded with an alternate project in the region. However, based on the indication from Pictou Consortium that it was proceeding with its own project in the area, we determined we would not proceed with a project for now,” she said. “Develop Nova Scotia also indicated that in the event that any portions of this area remain unserved or underserved in the future, we would include those areas in our project scope.”

Representatives of the county have also met with Business Minister of Nova Scotia Geoff MacLellan as they are worried about the effect this will have on rural businesses and those working from home in the county.

“This means a lot to businesses in Pictou County,” Parker said. A letter was sent to the minister to check in on the progress and MoPC has yet to hear back.

“We would have appreciated even a letter saying we received your letter,” Parker said. As of press time, MacLellan did not return calls from The Advocate for comment.

The county still hopes to proceed with the project regardless of the money that had been set aside specifically for this type of project that would have been beneficial to their operation.

“We could do a lot better job if we could get this money,” Parker said.