County Of Essex Backs SWIFT

The County of Essex is backing a plan to bring more fibre-optic internet access to the region.

The Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology project, otherwise known as SWIFT, is getting a $1.1-million commitment over the next five years from the county. A little over $600,000 of that commitment needs to be paid immediately.

SWIFT was initiated by the Western Ontario Warden's Caucus as a way of solidifying and growing the region's economy.

County of Essex Warden Tom Bain is pleased to see councillors back the initiative.

"Certainly help us with our economy here and get things moving," says Bain. "We've had so many of the small businesses especially in the area say that they've been handicapped by their inability to transact their business through the internet."

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Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos questions the delegate of the SWIFT initiative at the County of Essex regular meeting of council on April 19, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

County of Essex CAO Brian Gregg says part of the county's investment can be refunded under the agreement, but urged the county to put the money into fibre.

"We can do a heck of a lot a heck of a lot faster if we forgo that refundable portion and, in effect, invest it back into SWIFT right from the beginning and acknowledge that that is what our intention is to do," says Gregg.

The county is holding off on making up its mind on the refund, preferring to see how the project develops before making a decision.

Interim Executive Director of SWIFT Geoff Hogan feels council made the right call in backing the project.

"I'm very confident this project is going to go really well and they're going to be thrilled with what they were involved in five years from now," says Hogan.

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Interim Executive Director of SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Tecnology) attends the County of Essex regular meeting of council on April 19, 2017. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

The next step for SWIFT will be a request for pre-qualification documents being issued on May 12.

"That will gather the data we need to really find out where the fibre is in southwestern Ontario, so that when we do go to RFP that we spend the money wisely and build fibre where there is no fibre and leverage the fibre that already exists," says Hogan.

The first phase of the project is pegged at more than $270-million-dollars. The provincial and federal governments have already committed $90-million each. Hogan adds there are 18 municipal partners on board splitting the roughly $20-million share that has been assigned for municipalities to cover.

Hogan says the project will work to incentive established internet providers to install fibre in regions where there is no business case to install.

He expects shovels will be in the ground installing fibre-optic cables in Essex County by early 2019.