Rimbey’s Missing Link Internet has gotten approval from Ponoka County to help expand and enhance high-speed service to rural customers via a buy-back plan passed on Aug. 13. Image: Missing Link Internet

Ponoka County increases stake in fibre optic expansion to $1.5 million

Rural customers across west side of county will soon benefit from upgrade project

Ponoka County is ponying up in a big way to help get better, faster Internet to many of its rural residents.

Council approved two motions at its Aug. 13 meeting that will see Rimbey’s Missing Link Internet receive almost $1.5 million to complete two fibre optic cable projects.

The company will use federal grant funding through the Connect to Innovate (CTI) program to fund 75 per cent of the $2.2 million project to bring fibre optic capacity from Rimbey to Usona.

Getting the grant will allow the company to tack on its own $3.3 million project that will see residents living around the northern end of Gull Lake get access to this latest high speed communications network.

This agreement, which mirrors a similar deal with a different communications company, has the county paying $655,000 and $826,000 for the respective projects, with Missing Link essentially buying it all back over a 15-year time frame.

CAO Charlie Cutforth told council the funds could easily be handled within the county’s operating budget, since some of the money won’t be needed until at least next year and the rest in 2021.

Missing Link’s Craig Bondy and Phil Swanson told council what they were originally looking at was changed when Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) — the department responsible for the grant — extended the scope of the initial project.

“We had six different grant applications and didn’t know which ones we were going to get. We ended up getting the Parkland Beach to Usona, but it didn’t connect to anything,” Bondy said.

“So we went back and they agreed to extending the project to go from Rimbey to Parkland Beach and then on a route up to Usona. That now opens the door for us to build up around Parkland Beach and all around the northern part of the lake.”

Lacombe County scrapped the company’s plans to run fibre to residents of Gull Lake and other areas on the south end of the lake, which means the company can now focus on the north end project.

Bondy added that will include running it all the way to Raymond Shores and then to Meridian Beach and many of the surrounding subdivisions plus others along the route. The plan is also to see the routes supply fibre connections to various wireless towers, enhancing speed and potentially access for more people.

“It’s going to cost us more, but the more people we get on, the better it is for everybody,” he said.

“The federal government is actually in favour of fibre projects connecting with competitors and other towers, because they know better access is good for everyone.”

Construction on the two projects is likely to begin sometime next year. Meanwhile, completion of the Rimbey to Usona project must be done by 2023, while Bondy figured the northern lake portion could be done by sometime in 2021.

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