Most people are aware that the Town of Olds is fortunate to have a resource such as O-Net to provide high speed internet service, telephone systems, high definition television, mass storage and virtual private networks.
Many rural towns and municipalities throughout Canada continue to explore options for improving their internet service and Olds has been referenced as an example of small town action to install broadband internet.
However, the privilege to access this improved service and be independent from the large telecoms has not come without a cost. Did you know the following:
• $6,000,000 in 2010 was the original Town of Olds guaranteed loan to Olds Institute.
• $8,000,000 in 2014 was the second guaranteed loan approved by the Town of Olds.
• These loans were renegotiated in Sept. 2017 to $10,171,325 with a third party lender, the Town of Olds and Olds Institute, maturing in 2043.
• $3,900,000 of loan principal payments made by Olds Institute to the Town of Olds, which the Town of Olds re-loaned directly back to Olds Institute, maturing in 2043.
• $4,000,000 line of credit given to Olds Institute and guaranteed by the Town of Olds.
• In April 2017, the Town of Olds on behalf of Olds Institute applied for a $969,000 grant from the Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) provincial program.
• In October 2017 the Town of Olds was approved for a $600,000 provincial grant, which was matched by the Town of Olds in 2018 and given to Olds Institute totalling $1,200,000.
• The grant funds were primarily designated for marketing, promotion, and growing O-Net.
• Prior to 2019 the Town of Olds paid the salary benefits for the OI director.
The above data was sourced from Sept. 26, 2017 and Feb. 6, 2018 Olds Albertan editions and Town of Olds 2020 budget documents.
In 2019 the Town of Olds increased the contribution to OI, but all salaries and benefits were then done directly through the Institute.
Olds Institute is financially dependent on the Town of Olds even though it is the 100 per cent shareholder of Olds Fibre/O-Net and Mountain View Power.
The Town of Olds is also still giving Olds Institute an operating grant of $250,000 plus annually.
Aside from the few localized commercial business success stories, to date there has been limited growth of O-Net.
On January 22, 2018, town council was informed the CARES grant program would enable O-NET to grow, promote its services to other markets as well as assist in development of new products and complete the community Wi-Fi network.
Although the Town of Olds was one of the first to market with high speed, broadband internet and despite Olds’preferred location on the QE2 corridor between Calgary and Edmonton, Olds Institute/O-Net has still been unable to leverage the broadband connectivity as an incubator/enabler/partner to form significant growth in other information communication technologies and business sectors, such as a data processing centre.
What does all this mean?
O-Net and Olds Institute must become self-sufficient and financially independent from the Town of Olds.
It is true that the third party loan and line of credit guarantees by the town have not yet directly impacted the town’s finances, but the town’s re-loan of $3.9 million to Olds Institute also removed cash from the Town’s operating budget for 25 years.
Equally, if not more important, just imagine the financial flexibility the town would have if they didn’t have to subsidize the salaries as well as operating costs of Olds Institute.
That would mean an additional minimum of $250,000 plus annually the town could dedicate to any number of initiatives:
• Reduce business and property tax.
• Build town financial reserves.
• Pay down town debt.
• Invest in seniors services and housing.
• Affordable housing.
• Protective services.
• Roads, water and sewer infrastructure.
• Athletic infrastructure and cultural diversity.
So you are asking, what does this mean for me?
Buy local, support all home-grown business in the community. They are a large part of what constitutes a strong, vibrant, sustainable community.
In effect, O-Net, like Mountain View Power, which is a gas and power/electricity marketer owned by Olds Institute, is a utility much like water and sewer.
As taxpayers, whether you agreed or not with town council’s decision to financially support Olds Institute and by extension, the private business venture of O-Net and Mountain View power, it’s a win-win for the town residents/business to create an environment in which Olds Institute/O-Net and Mountain View Power become viable, stand-alone operations.
The Town of Olds needs to stop directly subsidizing Olds Institute, which in many ways is simply operating as an extension of the Town of Olds administration department.
The obvious way residents and business can help is by subscribing to the service packages that O-Net and Mountain View Power provides.
In doing so, you are supporting local business and gaining improved internet service along with exceptional local technical and service support.
The profits generated by O-Net and Mountain View Power remain in the local economy for reinvestment, which means Olds Institute, as 100 per cent shareholder, benefits financially, which, in turn, means the Town of Olds keeps $250,000 plus annually to make Olds an even better place to live.
We know O-Net had some technical growing pains for the first few years, but O-Net is now considered an equal to Telus and Shaw in services it provides, but also has the advantage of offering higher speed internet than its competitors.
So fellow taxpayers, let’s do the right thing and support all of our local businesses through these challenging times by shopping local and buying local.
What do you have to lose by signing with O-Net and Mountain View Power and giving them a try? Absolutely nothing.
After you have given them a fair trial period, and you decide the service does not meet your needs, you can always cancel and go back to your original service provider.
Or alternatively you can choose to do nothing and continue to have your tax dollars subsidize Olds Institute and ultimately O-Net. You choice.
By subscribing to O-Net you can benefit from their high-speed internet, quality technical support and their phone/cable services.