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Pact will bridge digital divide, bring 'affordable internet' to Ramara

Township, Xplornet break ground at site of new tower; 'Hopefully, by Christmas, we’ll have a present of internet that’s affordable for everyone,' mayor says

Residents of Ramara can expect the gift of better internet connectivity this Christmas.

Township officials joined representatives from Xplornet on Friday at the township works yard on Highway 12, just outside of Brechin, where Xplornet is building a 150-foot wireless-internet tower.

The company will also be constructing a new tower near Rathburn, will add its equipment to an existing tower near Mud Lake and will upgrade five existing wireless sites.

The project, when finished, will provide up to 50 megabits per second, with unlimited data, to 5,700 households and businesses in the area.

“Hopefully, by Christmas, we’ll have a present of internet that’s affordable for everyone,” said Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke.

The issue of internet connectivity and affordability is something “we all heard a need for” during the last municipal election campaign, he added.

There are “hot spots” in the township, but 75 per cent of residents do not have affordable internet, Clarke said.

When the township issued a request for proposals for the project, it included a stipulation that the winning company “not just pick the hot spots.”

“We want blanket coverage, and that’s what Xplornet has said it will do,” Clarke said.

Reliable internet access is more important than ever these days, with many people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clarke said he’s heard “horror stories” from residents, and he feels the new project will help solve their problems.

“Prior to COVID-19, our priority to improve broadband services in Ramara was to provide services to residents commensurate to other municipalities,” said township CAO John Pinsent. “Since COVID-19, our priority is to reduce the digital divide and provide our residents with a sense of normalcy as they continue to work, learn and connect at home.”

Xplornet has an aggressive schedule for the new build, aiming to have it finished, and internet service available, in December.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve already got a lot accomplished,” said Joel Smith, Xplornet’s director of network planning and provisioning, who praised the company’s partnership with the township. “There are always things we need to work through … and every time there’s been something we need to talk about, the township has been supportive.”

Clarke also spoke about the importance of the township and company teaming up to make sure the project comes to fruition quickly.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind partnership for us,” he said.

Part of what makes this project unique is how it was partially funded. The township committed in 2019 to putting its one-time modernization transfer from the province toward the upgrade.

Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, who attended Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony, praised the township for its use of that funding.

Residents who would like more information about Xplornet and what it will offer in the township can call the company at 1-866-790-5894.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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