Local mayors find fibre optic project under their Christmas trees

The West Coast must have behaved particularly well this year because amongst the goodies loaded up on Santa’s sleigh is the news that the West Coast’s fibre optic build is back on track.

The project was announced last week and is expected to bring increased Internet capacity and speed to West Coasters by early 2016.

“It’s understandable that some people will be skeptical, given that the last time this project was announced it ended up falling through,” Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News.

“This time, I am completely confident and I think that everyone else should be as well, because I know that the funding agreements are in place and that the construction work has been tendered and secured before the announcement was made.”

Osborne took office at the start of 2013 and in her first year she saw the Telus and BC Hydro backed fibre optic project announced with much fanfare in March just to stall with much frustration in September when Telus balked at higher than expected costs.

 â€œI started as mayor just before the project stalled in 2013 and picked up the reins from former mayor Perry Schmunk, who was a strong advocate for better Internet access along with Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving,” Osborne said.

 â€œSpeaking with leaders from First Nations and the District of Ucluelet, we knew we couldn’t let it go when the project stalled.”

She touted Ucluelet’s, now former, mayor Bill Irving as the key catalyst in getting local leaders, Telus and Hydro to meet and get the ball rolling again.

“From that the push started anew, leading to monthly teleconference calls with a growing number of stakeholders to address the funding gaps identified by TELUS and for local communities to continue to encourage everyone to find a solution,” she said.    

She said last week’s announcement carried “as much assurance as can possibly be had” that the project’s construction will get underway with no further snags.

She said she was aware last week’s announcement was coming but had to keep her lips sealed until it was officially set in stone.

 â€œWe have been eagerly anticipating this news for a while, and working closely with the Province, Telus and all stakeholders to coordinate our announcements,” she said.

“We promised to hold the final confirmation of the project in strict confidence as all the funding and contractual arrangements were being finalized.”

She said fibre optic high speed Internet will get the West Coast caught up with neighbouring regions.

“Most of British Columbia is connected to an incredibly fast internet infrastructure that enables all kinds of opportunities from health and education to emergency management and economic development,” she said.

“The West Coast fibre build project gives us access to that same infrastructure, bringing us in line with the rest of BC, and helping us meet the expectations of our hundreds of thousands of visitors.”

She said the West Coast’s Internet connectivity has been “a big concern for years now” and she is stoked to see that concern alleviated.

“Lack of sufficient bandwidth and slow speeds means dropped lines, long buffering times to watch video, and lengthy upload and download times for large files,” she said.

“I think many local community and business leaders recognized that the longer we went without upgrades to internet access, the farther and farther we’d be slipping behind, so it was important to keep the issue alive with TELUS and the Province.”

The project is expected to cost about $13 million and is being funded in collaboration between Telus, BC Hydro, All Nations Trust Company and the Province with neither Ucluelet nor Tofino taking out their wallets.

Ucluelet’s new mayor Dianne St. Jacques was thrilled to see such positive news land on her desk just a month into her freshly earned tenure.

 â€œI know that it’s been a work in progress for quite some time and this is really good news and I think we have really good cause to be very positive about it…For all of us to be brought up to speed so to speak is very exciting,” she told the Westerly.

 â€œIt’s something that’s really needed out here on the West Coast, not only for the enjoyment of those of us that live here to be able to do our work on our computers or do our fun things at a high speed, but also to encourage people to move here and be able to do their business from Ucluelet as well.”

She said the project’s resurrection shows the strength the West Coast’s regional voice wields when the communities work together towards a common goal.

“I also think it speaks to that the region is solution oriented and recognizes that there are challenges for these different companies to get these things done but if you can bring all the people together then let’s figure out how to do it,” she said.

“Instead of being frustrated about it, let’s just figure out what needs to be done to get it back on track and I think that’s what happened.”

Like Osborne, St. Jacques was anticipating the announcement and hoped it would arrive in time for Christmas.

“We were hopeful that it was coming before Christmas because it’s a terrific Christmas present for the West Coasters,” she said.

St. Jacques acknowledged the West Coast has been burned by fibre optic hopes before but expressed adamant confidence the project will reach fruition this time around.

“All the players are lined up and they’re all saying the same thing and they’re all in agreement as to how it should move forward and when it will move forward so I would say the ducks have lined up,” she said.

reporter@westerlynews.ca