PENHOLD – The town has inched closer to signing a final contract to provide high-speed fibre optic internet service for all residential and businesses in the community.
Following a detailed presentation at council’s regular meeting on Aug. 10 by consultant Graham Barclay, of Red Deer-based Stage-COACH Consulting, administration was directed to work with project contractor Valo Networks and Red Deer County and come back to council with “concrete” final pricing.
“If we go ahead we would be looking at a 2021 start and completion date to bring fibre internet into Penhold,” said mayor Mike Yargeau.
Council was told by Barclay, who was retained by the town, that the total forecasted price for the project has dropped to $2.2 million from the original estimate of up to $3.4 million.
“Project details and fibre construction is still to be determined by the project management team,” said Barclay in an interview last week. “The concrete costs are based on the plan so the cable can be sent to the homes in different ways. Some can be buried. Some of it can be on telephone polls. Those planning details, design details, have not been completed.”
The town’s move to high speed fibre optic internet service is part of a partnership with Red Deer County. The rural municipality announced earlier this year it was partnering with Penhold and the Village of Delburne on a $9.2 million rural fibre optic project. The county is contributing up to $4 million while Delburne announced last March it is investing $1.15 million.
With the county boldly moving towards regional high speed internet, Town of Penhold officials are anxious to get on board to remain competitive.
“I just feel it is important for us to really examine the option of fibre optics because it is quite clear our neighbouring municipality Red Deer County is invested in this,” said Coun. Mike Walsh. “Whether the town likes it or not we are in direct competition.
“We’ve got the Highway 2 and 42 junction all hooked up, while Liberty Landing, McKenzie and Gasoline Alley are all connected. That’s all direct competition for Penhold for residents and commercial businesses. For me, as long as the finances make sense this is a no-brainer.”
Council was told through Barclay’s report that the upfront installation cost to each owner at 1,395 locations in Penhold would be about $1,400 with no other maintenance costs in the future.
“There are no other surprises to this. If there is an accidental cut in the fibre the contractor you are hiring will take care of that for you,” said Barclay, adding internet service for homeowners will cost about $110 a month, and about $225 for business.
The consultant went on to tell council the new infrastructure for the town will ultimately add significant value for the community.
“We think it will attract more homeowners and more businesses and there will be a return on investment in various methods,” said Barclay. “It certainly won’t be right away but ultimately the community will only be seen positively versus if you don’t have it and all your neighbours do, there will be concern and questions for you too, ‘Why is the internet slower in Penhold but not your neighbours.’
“There will be concerns that way.”
Yargeau said while final details are being worked out the town will pursue federal and provincial grant opportunities to help pay for the project’s multi-million dollar cost.
“We want the province and federal government to step up. They have announced, especially the federal government, a lot of rural broadband initiatives, and we need broadband so we are hopeful we can get in on this,” said Yargeau, noting the town has met with local MP Earl Dreeshen, and has contacted the province for provincial support. “I am hopeful we will get some of this funding.”
And if the Town of Penhold is unsuccessful with its applications for federal and provincial support, Yargeau said the town is still prepared to go ahead alone.
“For the town it is more about our ability to borrow money and we are in a very strong financial position with our debt limit. We are not spending anywhere near what our debt limit is as a municipality. We could easily finance this,” said Yargeau.
“I don’t speak for the whole council but the town can do it, and I think we would be willing to do it if that was our last option.”