With more than 90 per cent of its territory receiving direct high-speed Internet access, Ponoka County has been deemed to have, on a municipality basis, the best Internet coverage nationwide.
Pre-2010, CAO Charlie Cutforth says, approximately 10 per cent of the county could receive access. “Like most municipalities, we kept hoping the private sector would see a market in the rural sector. But we waited for years, and the coverage was so sporadic.”
In early 2010, Cutforth attended a conference in Cochrane put on by a number of rural gas co-ops across the province that were looking into electronically reading meters rather than physical excursions.
“They got together and looked at, if there was some sort of high-speed Internet available, they could do their readings more efficiently,” said Cutforth.
“The service was at the same level as the major urban centres,” he added.
Ponoka County received The Final Mile $500,000 federal grant and finished up their discussions with CCI Wireless (called Corridor Communications at the time) for seven high-speed towers to be erected across the county.
The total cost for the county was $1.7 million and the grant went into helping to pay that cost. Cutforth says while Ponoka County had to front the entire cost, they also entered into an agreement that CCI could purchase the towers over 15 years.
“When those towers got built we thought ‘oh beauty, we’re done,’” said Cutforth. However, once the towers were constructed, it was found that there were still customers throughout the county that couldn’t receive direct access because of topography.
In 2012, Ponoka County formed another agreement with two county residents who formed Missing Link, “which is intended erect to small towers in places CCI isn’t available,” Cutforth explained.
To construct the 13 smaller towers cost a total of $270,000. However, the county received another grant to the tune of $240,000 and ended up having to pay only $30,000.
Like CCI, Missing Link can also buy their towers from the county over a 15-year period.
Because of obstacles such as heavy tree coverage, Cutforth says there may still be county residents without access to a signal. He says the county is willing to pay for small towers to go in if they’ll provide access to at least three households but he hasn’t received a call from someone without access in over a year.
After Ponoka County joined forces with CCI, Cutforth says approximately six other counties have either done the same or are in the midst of that process.