High-speed rollout in Waterford-area Ward 7

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A large section of rural Norfolk is about to take a giant step into the 21st century.

A build-out of high-speed fibre-optic cable has officially started in Waterford-area Ward 7.

Rogers Communications, in partnership with the South-Western Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative, has begun burying trunk lines along 71 kilometres of mostly rural roads in the Wilsonville, Boston, Bealton, Dundurn, Waterford, Townsend Centre, Bloomsburg and Villa Nova area.

The total value of the work is $7.6 million. Rogers is aiming for a completion date of mid-2021.

“This is truly a big day for those who have long waited to fully take part in the wide range of activities modern digital tools have enabled,” Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp said in a news release.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us just how critical fast and reliable internet has become, especially for those now learning and working from home. That’s why we’re so excited to be one step closer to bringing this connectivity to even more Norfolk residents.”

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The work will deliver high-speed internet to 2,100 households and businesses. The installation is part of a SWIFT pilot project worth $34 million. When finished at the end of 2021, this phase of the campaign will deliver broadband access to 10,700 homes and businesses in Norfolk, Lambton and Wellington counties.

Additional projects are underway as part of the SWIFT pilot project. More will begin in the months ahead.

Local MPP Toby Barrett says the work is timely given the ongoing discussion over the costs and benefits of e-learning now that the province’s school system is in indefinite shutdown.

“Enhanced broadband and call service helps students do their homework and people to work at home,” Barrett said. “This work-in-progress will help address some of the gaps in these rural and small-town communities. There is still much work to be done.”

SWIFT came together several years ago after members of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus recognized that internet deficiencies in rural areas had become a barrier to investment, settlement and new construction.

Ontario and the federal government have provided financial backing for the $209-million program. SWIFT aims to connect 22 per cent of homes and businesses in underserviced localities over the next three years. The initiative has been likened to the drive for rural electrification in Ontario 100 years ago.

“Today is an important milestone as we begin construction to bring our Rogers Ignite services to homes and businesses in Norfolk,” said Eric Bruno, a senior vice-president of the company. “Fast and dependable connectivity is more important than ever, and Rogers is thrilled to partner with SWIFT to bring high-speed internet to families and businesses in Norfolk County.”

In a recent update, Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele, Norfolk’s representative to the SWIFT board of directors, said the installation of fibre-optic cable in the Turkey Point-Normandale area should be finished by December. Installation is slated to begin in Long Point in October.

The total value of SWIFT’s investment in Norfolk during this phase is $8.3 million. Several local, provincial and national internet service providers have also put up cash for the right to establish and operate these networks.

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