In praise of better planning

Last week, the Government of Ontario announced new legislation “to help bring reliable high-speed internet to underserved and unserved communities sooner.”

The “Getting Ontario Connected Act, 2022” is said to help meet “[the Ontario] government’s commitment to connect every community with access to high-speed internet by the end of 2025.” The legislation “would remove barriers, duplication and delays, making it easier and faster to build high-speed internet infrastructure across the province.”

I note that the proposed Act is a supplement to the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021 and the Building Broadband Faster Act, 2021, which were said “to reduce costs to broadband providers associated with attaching broadband wirelines to hydro utility poles, and … provide timely access to poles and to municipal rights of way to install broadband on municipal land.”

Why would 3 separate pieces of legislation over the past year be required for Ontario to accelerate broadband deployment?

The latest piece of legislation is supposed to help accelerate the work of Ontario One Call’s “locate service”, the “call-before-you-dig” service bureau that can be a significant roadblock for companies looking to plow fibre. But a year ago, Ontario was already looking at making it easier for companies to access poles owned by provincially regulated electric companies. At the same time, Ontario said that the legislation was setting a maximum of 10 days for owners of underground infrastructure to provide locations through the Ontario One Call system.

On first glance, the need for the most recent legislation should have been anticipated last year, had appropriate planning or industry consultations been undertaken prior to the drafting, or at the very least, in committee review of the bill.

With all of the activity underway across North America to extend broadband to underserved areas, it has been a challenge sometimes for service providers to find qualified construction companies and workers. As temperatures start to warm across the country, broadband construction season is beginning in Canada.

It is admirable that Ontario has been recognizing the need to clear the pathways for network operators to build facilities. Still, how many projects missed last year’s construction window because the 2021 legislation was inadequate?

How many more households could get access to better broadband more rapidly, and at lower cost, if more governments – at all levels – would recognize the importance of simplified access to publicly owned rights of way and passive infrastructure?

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