Saturday 8 August 2009

SAWS Project Update

Important Update Concerning SAWS Project


The purpose of this blog is to inform you that the ADnet South Algoma/West Sault (SAWS) Broadband Gap Filler project has been placed on “hold” awaiting clarification of recent funding policy changes by the federal and provincial governments. This action is due mainly to the uncertainty of the impact on subsidy funding caused by the announcement about the creation of the federal Broadband Canada program.


On July 20, 2009 MNDMF/NOHFC staff implied in an exchange of communications with ADnet that the provincial criteria for broadband funding support was in a state of limbo as a result of the creation of the federal Broadband Canada program but did not provide a lot of details.

Unfortunately, to date Industry Canada has published only a general overview and loose guidelines for the Broadband Canada program with detailed information to be announced in the summer of 2009. While the Broadband Canada website indicates “…Program implementation will seek to ensure that federal investments complement, not duplicate, initiatives already under way” and “… will seek to identify those areas where expansion is currently planned by provinces/territories or the private sector in order to ensure the federal investment is complementary, not duplicative, to programs already underway” there is not a clear understanding by either the federal or provincial authorities I am in contact with exactly what these statements mean.

A major area that requires reconciliation is the differences in approach between the federal and provincial programs; Broadband Canada proposes to fund directly with broadband vendors while the province currently funds through a third party facilitator such as ADnet.

One change that did become evident on July 20th was that since the announcement of Broadband Canada, the provincial funding program now excluded any areas identified as being part of the CRTC Deferral Account litigation currently before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). This meant that the West Sault broadband requirements had to be removed from the project scope as the total area was addressed in the Bell Canada CRTC Deferral Account submissions. (One can only assume that the decision to remove the Deferral Account areas is based on the presumption that the SCC will rule in favour of the Deferral Account program proceeding. It is not clear what happens if the SCC rules otherwise.)

The vendors were advised of the change by e-mail on July 24th. On the same date, I wrote a letter to the NOHFC Executive Director asking for a definitive answer as to whether or not NOHFC would process a funding application predicated on the results of the RFP for the South Algoma/West Sault Area in light of the Broadband Canada program. A copy is attached. A preliminary response indicates that there may be a delay in the final response due to holiday schedules.

Until I receive a reply from NOHFC, the availability of provincial funding is in the air. If the province is not prepared to consider a funding application, then I am asking the vendors to expend a lot of resources for no purpose.

Under the circumstances I felt there were three viable options:

(1) cancel the RFP

(2) proceed as per the amended RFP scope but extend the due date to mid September to accommodate the scope change;

(3) place a “hold” on the RFP pending further clarifications; or

After consultations with the vendors and other advisors, I decide to adopt option (3) and place a “hold” on the project. Further action will depend on information provided by the federal and provincial authorities. This means the responses due on August 11th are postponed and the there will be no evaluation panel held during the week of August 17.

I am extremely disappointed that it was necessary to take this action at this time but I felt it was the only fair option for all concerned. I will continue to monitor the situation closely and make adjustments as necessary.

On the positive side, my discussions with Bell Aliant indicate they are ready to move quickly if the SCC decision which is expected in September 2009 favours proceeding with the Deferral Account program. The West Sault area is part of the first tranche for implementation and could be completed within months of a favourable decision.

I will issue additional update as news become available or monitor the website at

Broadband Canada Impact

This blog refers to to this article in SooToday or the original release with the same info.

As of the writing of this blog, neither I nor any of my colleagues have any idea what the impact of the federal announcement and the follow-up provincial announcement later the same day will have on northern Ontario.

The former (because his position was made redundant last week) broadband coordinator at the MNDMF office in Thunder Bay told me orally that MNDMF/NOHFC would not support any funding for areas that were identified in the CRTC Deferral Account documents. St Joseph Island was one such area as were parts of Echo Bay, Prince Township, the SSM-Airport area and Goulais River.

The Deferral Account issue is still waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada decision which is expected in September. Bell Aliant has divulged to me that they are very confident that they will win the argument and are really to start installing Deferral Account areas almost immediately. They figure it may take up to four years to finish all of the 300 plus areas identified in the Deferral Account program. At the moment, St Joseph is identified as scheduled for late the first year or early the second year and will cover the entire Island. If the Supreme Court rules against Bell, all bets are off.

Neither the federal or provincial sites have explicit directions on how to access the money being announced or what the procedures will be. Even the broad strokes are confusing – the federal site says 50/50 fed/industry funding while the provincial site says 33/33/33 fed/prov/industry funding.

Also, the $225M the feds are identifying is spread over three years for all of Canada. Based on the information provided by the province, it looks like they expect to receive about $10M per year for three years of the federal money. Using the 1/3 formula this could total of $90M over three years for province-wide coverage of the unserved areas (minus the Deferral Account areas.)

I wrote a letter to the Executive Director, NOHFC asking for a clear policy statement on funding and a recommended way to proceed. I am still awaiting a reply which would indicate to me they will be making things up on the fly.  

I am also in contact with the federal coordinator for Ontario who is located in Toronto so he must have a good understanding of northern Ontario needs.

There is a chance for you to provide some feed back to the government at this site . You can subscribe to the federal mailing list at this site and receive the latest confusing announcements.

The bottom line is that at the moment the impact all these announcements will have is still up in the air.